Not a string in sight as the Montclair Orchestra Percussion Ensemble performs at the Morris Museum

JACK GRASSA

From left to right, members of the Montclair Orchestra Percussion Ensemble Barry Centanni, Christine Chen, Taylor Goodson, Thomas Mulvaney, Erica Mariani and Eric Borghi perform at the Morris Museum.

“You can’t play a sad song on the banjo,” said Steve Martin. “It always comes out so cheerful.”

The same is true, I think, for the xylophone. Or, at least, that’s something that came to my mind when I listened to the six-piece Montclair Orchestra Percussion Ensemble’s “Percussive Harmony” concert at the Morris Museum in Morris Township on August 4th ( the event had been postponed from August 1 because of the rain). Almost everything they played was of an uplifting quality, in part thanks to the instruments on stage: in addition to the xylophone, the ensemble used marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, drums, timpani and claves.

The show was officially part of the Morris Museum’s Lot of Strings Music Festival – featuring, primarily, string quartets, and taking place outside, for a socially distant audience, in a parking lot. But that night there was no rope in sight.

Fans of popular music tend to think that percussion instruments only provide rhythm and no melody. This obviously changes when you add xylophones, marimbas, etc. So there was melody in this concert; it just wasn’t delivered the way most people are used to hearing it.

Barry Centanni, the principal percussionist of the Orchester de Montclair, conducts the ensemble and proudly mentioned at the end of the evening that everyone on stage had been a student of his at some point. He and ensemble member Thomas Mulvaney spoke to the audience between the acts, casually explaining how the instruments work and the differences between them. Their tone was often pleasant and playful: a violin can arouse deep emotions, but a xylophone evokes an almost childish sense of pleasure.

All the musicians played various instruments during the night, for a fairly rich program. There was a lot of ragtime on it (including Scott Joplin’s well-known compositions “The Entertainer” and “The Easy Winners”, both heard in the movie “The Sting”) as well as an import from the opera world (Georges Bizet’s film “Chanson du toréador”, from “Carmen”). Tchaikovsky was featured (“Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from “The Nutcracker”, a good showcase for Mulvaney’s glockenspiel game), as was Gershwin (“Sweet and Lowdown”).

For “Tico Tico” by Zequinha de Abreu, egg shakers were distributed to members of the public, who were invited to play the game. And there were two novelty compositions on the program.

Larry Spivak’s “Quartet for Paper Bags” featured – you guessed it – four of the ensemble members cajoling sounds in bags of various sizes (a viola bag, a tenor bag, a baritone bass and a bass bag). But it fell a bit flat. Too much of it was just a blur of white noise; the music was too hard to find.

But Leroy Anderson’s “The Typewriter,” starring Centanni on this now-rarely-used machine, was an upbeat winner, with its charming, nostalgic snap, cheerful bell sounds, and crisp clarity. thank you of its carriage returns. It was well positioned as the penultimate song of the program, before two bursts of energy to conclude: “Log Cabin Blues” by George Hamilton Green, then, as a reminder, the equally lively and brilliant “Xylophonia” of the brother. of Green, Joe Green.

Next up for the Lot of Strings Music Festival is the Tesla Quartet on August 15 at 8 p.m., playing music by Schubert and Caroline Shaw. Visit morrismuseum.org.

To learn more about the Orchester de Montclair, visit montclairorchestra.org.

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