January 29, 2010

Photos from Tyzik Timpani Concerto

Last night, the RPO performed the world premiere of Jeff Tyzik's Timpani Concerto, with Christopher Seaman conducting and Principal Timpanist Charles Ross as soloist. Here are some photos from the concert.

The second movement featured an unusual duet between Charles on timpani and Kenny Grant on clarinet. I love Charles' expression in the second photo below - just after he had played the last notes of the concerto.

During the audience's standing ovation, Jeff Tyzik joined Christopher and Charles on stage.

After that, another set of timpani were wheeled onstage, and Charles announced that he was going to play "March for 2 Pairs of Kettledrums" by Andre and Jaques Philidor, written in 1683 for King Louis XIV. He then asked if there was another kettledrum player in the house, and Christopher joined him in a duet.

January 28, 2010

Jeff Tyzik's Timpani Concerto Debuts Tonight

In just a few hours, we'll get to hear the world premiere of Jeff Tyzik's brand-new Timpani Concerto, featuring the RPO's Principal Timpanist Charles Ross. I was able to catch a bit of the rehearsal earlier today, with Christopher Seaman conducting, and I can't wait to hear the full piece!

It's not often that you get to see the timpani out in front of the orchestra, and Charles will be playing seven timpani. I may bring my binoculars, just to see how he choreographs playing so many drums at once!

It's also a fairly rare occurence to have the composer of the piece in the hall, providing feedback right at the rehearsal. But Jeff was there, fine tuning and adjusting the balance between the various instruments. We're really lucky, both to have Jeff as a resident composer as well as conductor, and to have Christopher directing, since he himself was a timpanist with the London Philharmonic.

If you miss tonight's performance - you'll have another chance Saturday night at 8:00 pm, with Christopher hosting the Pre-Concert Chat at 7:00. Click here for more info.

January 20, 2010

A Talk with Charles Ross About Jeff Tyzik’s New Timpani Concerto

When Jeff Tyzik’s new Timpani Concerto debuts in a couple of weeks, our extraordinary Principal Timpanist Charles Ross will show off the surprising color and variety of the timpani, an instrument that isn’t usually front and center.

This imaginative and exciting world premiere incorporates elements of jazz—including call-and-response and African and Cuban rhythms—within the traditional three-movement structure of a concerto.

We talked with Charles to find out more about the new work.

How did this new concerto come about?

Well for many years, I had a desire to contact the great American composer John Williams about writing a concerto for timpani. He's known mostly for his film scores like Star Wars, Superman, Shindler’s List, Catch Me if You Can, and so many others. I've played his pieces and arrangements many times and what has always appealed to me is how he writes for my particular instrument. He's extremely conscious of not just the percussive nature of the timpani, but also its vast color potential, as well as its harmonic and melodic possibilities.

But when I arrived in Rochester and began playing Jeff Tyzik's pieces, I immediately was impressed by his compositional style and more specifically, how perfect his timpani-writing is. He captures exactly the qualities I described above. So, when I was approached about doing a concerto, it really was a "no brainer" as to whose piece I'd want to play.

In his program notes, Jeff talks about the choreography of playing the timpani, since each drum can only be set to one note. What goes into preparing for a piece like this?

He and I discussed a great deal what we'd like to experience in a full-length concerto for timpani and decided we wanted to include as many "voices" of the instrument as we could. And its potential for melody was at the top of the list. So we decided on using as many drums as possible to allow for these melodies to be played with fluidity, and that does mean a certain "choreography" is required due to the physical placement of the instruments.

There is a pedal mechanism on the timpani that does allow for the changing of pitches, and you can alter these as you are playing. However, there is a limit to how much of a change, and how many of the drums you can physically get to for these pitch alterations. So, needless to say, much of my prep time was spent playing a kind of "timpani twister game" just getting around this pretty large set-up. I think my chiropractor has done fairly well by me these last few months.

Tell us more about the piece; for instance, do you have any favorite sections?

I can't say I have a favorite section because he's thrown so much diversity into it, and that's what I love most about the piece. And the reason I was attracted to the timpani in the first place as a young drummer, was for its great diversity. I think, though, that the most surprising and innovative part of the piece is the second movement where Jeff has written the timpani as a bass line of a jazz blues. It's pretty cool. I hope everyone enjoys the piece as much as I have putting it all together.

Hear Jeff’s new work on Thursday, January 28 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, January 30 at 8:00 pm, with Christopher Seaman conducting. The program also includes music by Debussy and Brahms. Click here for more information about the concert.

January 6, 2010

Who is that man in the powdered wig?

I have heard from a reliable source that we will have a special guest at this weekend’s Pops concerts, which feature the amazing musicians of the RPO in a variety of solo, ensemble, and sectional pieces.

You’ll get to see first-hand how versatile the musicians are, with a ragtime tribute to Jelly Roll Morton, Piazzolla tangos, the classic Autumn Leaves, a brass spectacular, Jeff Tyzik’s Woodwind Whirlwind, and classical showpieces by the Russian masters.

There will also be solos by musicians who aren’t typically in the spotlight—including double bass, tuba, and percussion.

Oh, and back to that special guest—Mozart himself will join us with his less-than-elegant but authentic comments during his horn concerto! Click here for more information about the concert.