Thoughts on Pierluigi Billone’s Mani.Long

As I am writing this, I am riding back on Amtrak from performing with the Talea Ensemble at Brandeis University last night.  The last piece on the program, Pierluigi Billone’s Mani.Long, was the cornerstone of the program, and had marked the third time this month that the ensemble had played the piece in concert.

The process of preparing a piece of this length (nearly 50 minutes) allowed me to experience Billone’s work in a new light.  First, it was the first of his compositions that I performed, and second, I had the opportunity to experience the piece numerous times, which rarely is possible.


Initially, I was lost in this piece.  I couldn’t hear the long-scale structure and I could only relate locally to the sonic connections.  The length of the piece simply overwhelmed me.   I had a firm grasp of the “what?” in the piece (sonic connections, extended techniques, blending of instrumental colors, etc.), but not the “why?”. It took until the ensemble’s residency at East Carolina University (ECU) last week before everything came together, courtesy of fellow percussionist Matt Gold.


At ECU, Matt and I were asked to lead a master class for the percussionists.  Before the class, Matt researched about the series of Billone’s pieces all that begin with “Mani…”  and are hommages to artists who inspire the works:  Mani.Matta is written for Gordon Matta-Clark, Mani.Leonardis is inspired by Federico De Leonardis, and, among others, Mani.Long is inspired by Richard Long.





Richard Long’s art centers around human and nature interaction.  Epic walks lead to large-scale natural installations using stone, wood and metal.  These three elements pervade the sonic environment throughout the work and are at some times the focus or interuptive, other times just a timbral coloration and occasionally in the background.  Suddenly the length of the piece had purpose (to mirror Long’s walks), and the natural instrument materials gave sonic translation of Long’s installations and writings.  Armed with this knowledge, I was prepared to give a more commanding and declarative performance, and the performance in North Carolina was definitely the best one to date.



Another note about sound:


Throughout the early rehearsals, the concept was made clear to me the Billone is not satisfied with the traditional approach to performance on an instrument.  As a percussionist, I am used to playing the mallet keyboard instruments (marimba, vibraphone, etc.) where we have one bar for one note and, without access to a rotary drill tool, there is no middle ground when it comes to pitch – its either an A or an A#.  Timpani have long had the ability to fine-tune notes, but this ability is in the minority with percussion.  This does not stop Billone from exploring.


First, bending of pitches on timpani coupled with the African talking drum create the foundation of this world.  On top of that he adds melodic passages for stones (the pitch to be manipulated by increasing and decreasing the cavity of the holding hand while striking with the other stone), and superball mallets on tam tams (less pitch bend) and thunder sheets (much more pitch bend, especially when assisted by the foot).  Temple bowls are swirled cup-down on the cup of a large thai gong that produce high-partial glissandi.  IT was imperative to Billone that this sound be achieved.


On the other hand, Billone also writes for passages of complex sound.  Screeching of temple bowls (mouth down) on saw blades, temple bowls (mouth down) circled on the surface of the large thai gongs, and fast glissandi on the low range of the marimba and high range of the xylophone with very hard mallets.  I interpreted the effect here to achieve the same aim:  discover and realize all of the possibilities between the tradition.  The widest spectrum of sound possible, from the low grumble of the temple bowl/thai gongs to the highest screech of the saw blades paints the harmonic spectrum with a wide brush, engaging all of the possibly timbres and pitches from each of the seemingly mono-pitch instruments.


About half-way through the piece lower voices rumble in humming low pitches which hand off the sound to low marimba with soft bass drum mallets.  Perhaps this could be a case that Billone is mirroring everything upon the timbral flexibility of the human voice.  But what is the human voice if not a product of nature?  To me it seems that Billone’s aim is to show us that the line between nature and humans is not so clear.  The human voice moves to and through the instruments of the ensemble without seams, hopefully the same way we can coexist in the natural world.

New Position at Rutgers University!

New Position at Rutgers University!

It is with great pleasure that I announce that I am the newest addition to the Rutgers University percussion department!  I auditioned for this position in November and started at the end of January.  I am teaching private lessons that are focused on mallet percussion, chamber music, and solo percussion.  I also have the privilege of conducting the percussion ensemble in the upcoming concert on April 13.


Looking forward to the road ahead!

Elliott Carter DVD Released!

I just heard from a composer in Australia that Elliott Carter’s 103rd Birthday Concert, which was recorded for DVD, has been released! This was among my most special projects as a performer. I had the privilege of playing a premiere of his, a “new classic” and also his marimba solo Figment V. It was an honor that he was in attendance and that I was able to celebrate his 103rd and unfortunately last, birthday.


Here is the trailer and the DVD can be purchased here:

Upcoming Concerts at the Guggenheim

I’m so thrilled that I will be playing a series of performances at the Guggenheim Museum to close out my NYC performing for 2013! 


First:  Peter and the Wolf, featuring Isaac Mizrahi and a trio of wonderful dancers and a fabulous ensemble of Juilliard musicians as part of the Works and Process Series.  The New York Times did a great preview of the show.  It should be a blast.  Here is the link from the Guggenheim website.



Second:  George Steel is conducting a Holiday Concert with Vox Vocal Ensemble and Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble.  I’ll be playing a few works, including Ives’ From the Steeples and the Mountains and Bizet’s Le Marche des Trois Rois, from L’Arleisenne Suites 1 & 2.  For more info, click HERE.

Article for Juilliard Journal

Article for Juilliard Journal

Recently I had an article published in the Juilliard newspaper which gives a bit of background on the upcoming November 12 Juilliard Percussion Ensemble concert.

***Disclaimer:  I didn’t write the title of the article, and it may be a bit extravagant for the article itself, but the content is still there.   Hope you enjoy!


nief-norf Summer Festival



In only a few days I will be off to the nief-norf Summer Festival in South Carolina.  Can’t wait for a week of meeting up with old friends and meeting new colleagues.  The first night I’ll perform John Luther Adams’s Strange and Sacred Noise, then coach a bunch of pieces I’ve never heard about.  Next weekend I’ll be giving a talk on Stockhausen’s Kontakte as part of the nief-norf Research Summit.  Busy few days, but completely worth it!

Can’t wait!


LUPE Concert – Web Archive


In true Lawrence fashion, LUPE’s Spring Concert was an absolute knockout!  Steve Reich’s Drumming Part 1, Clay Condon’s Fractalia, and the WI premiere of Mark Applebaum’s 30 rounded out the first half.  Then Nani Agbeli, with the help of fellow Lawrence alums Reed Flygt, Harjinder Bedi and Andrew Green, slammed through a wickedly difficult medley of music from Africa, Cuba, and Brazil arranged by LU students.  Amazing!

You missed it?  Watch it here – believe me, it’s worth it!