A new dimension

HITTING PLANKS: “Song made by hitting planks” is the original meaning of marimba but Japanese-born musician Yoshiko Tsuruta will take the instrument to another level with an eclectic programme that includes compositions by Bach, Wagner, New Zealand composer John Psathas and Romantic guitar virtuoso Giulio Regondi. Picture supplied

The world premiere of a work commissioned for a classical concept marimba will be part of the Yoshiko Tsuruta’s programme in Gisborne on Saturday.

Composer Andrzej Nowicki wrote Snowplay for Tsuruta’s upscaled marimba and threw in passages for glockenspiel while he was at it.

The glockenspiel provides an interesting contrast with the marimba and is used in this composition to depict the snow, says Tsuruta in her in-depth programme notes.

“A child plays in the snow, mesmerised by its delicacy. At times the snow settles gently, though there are fleeting surprises like the prickle of icy flakes swept into an innocent face. However, the heart-warming winter can turn into the aggressive coldness with pain.”

Tsuruta’s programme includes transcriptions of Bach’s Chaconne, a Wagner chorale and a work for marimba and digital audio by New Zealand composer John Psathas.

Asked if playing Bach and Wagner on marimba isn’t a bit like playing Mozart on ukelele, Tsuruta says the percussive instrument has been used in classical music performances in Japan and Europe for the past 70 to 80 years.

“It’s just not commonly associated with classical music in New Zealand.”

On a mission

She is on a mission to change all that.

“This programme will show the ability of the instrument. What you can do on marimba is many different kinds of music.”

Tsuruta uses four mallets — two in each hand — to play the marimba. The bars of a chromatic marimba are arranged like the keys of a piano. Two tiers of rosewood bars cover the same range of white and black keys.

“Rosewood is really dense wood. It gives music a nice, bright sound,” says Tsuruta.

“My instrument has extra notes than the standard, five octave, concert marimba. My marimba has five extra top notes and three extra lower notes. It gives me more scope. There is no published music for this instrument. I play a lot of arranged music. Three pieces are my own arrangements.”

A metal resonator under the keyboard amplifies the sound.

New composition shows off marimba's character

Nowicki’s composition shows off the colour and character of the marimba’s sound, says Tsuruta.

The programme includes Nabojsa Zivkovic’s 1996 work Ilijas. One of Europe’s leading percussionists, Zivcovic is known for his marimba performances.

Ilijas is a small town in Bosnia. Zivcovic’s eponymous composition, a three-part rhapsody, references folk music found in the area.

In the introduction of the piece, Zivkovic calls for a very unusual marimba technique that produces sounds reminiscent of a Franz Liszt grand piano sound, Tsuruta says in her programme notes.

“The middle part, however, uses typical marimbistic patterns, masterly composed in a number of various odd meters. Then the music returns to the melancholic mood and ends tranquillo, morendo . . .”

Morendo is a gradual softening of tone and slowing of movement.

She describes Bach’s composition for violin, Chaconne, as challenging but adaptable to a variety of instruments.

“I have also referred to different arrangements, including Brahms’ transcription for left hand piano.”

Psathas’s work One study, one summary is an exciting, soundtrack-like work composed for a marimba, recorded electronic beats and percussive instruments.

“As the title suggests, it is cast in two movements, and while the work exhibits the ‘busy’ motoric textures for which Psathas is well-known. Reflective, atmospheric textures dominate throughout,” says Tsuruta.

She will round off her performance with Romantic guitar virtuoso Giulio Regondi’s 1864 work Introduction et Caprice, Op.23.

“The last piece, composed for guitar, sounds like the tone shapes in both guitar and marimba.

“Guitar music often works on marimba.”

The world premiere of a work commissioned for a classical concept marimba will be part of the Yoshiko Tsuruta’s programme in Gisborne on Saturday.

Composer Andrzej Nowicki wrote Snowplay for Tsuruta’s upscaled marimba and threw in passages for glockenspiel while he was at it.

The glockenspiel provides an interesting contrast with the marimba and is used in this composition to depict the snow, says Tsuruta in her in-depth programme notes.

“A child plays in the snow, mesmerised by its delicacy. At times the snow settles gently, though there are fleeting surprises like the prickle of icy flakes swept into an innocent face. However, the heart-warming winter can turn into the aggressive coldness with pain.”

Tsuruta’s programme includes transcriptions of Bach’s Chaconne, a Wagner chorale and a work for marimba and digital audio by New Zealand composer John Psathas.

Asked if playing Bach and Wagner on marimba isn’t a bit like playing Mozart on ukelele, Tsuruta says the percussive instrument has been used in classical music performances in Japan and Europe for the past 70 to 80 years.

“It’s just not commonly associated with classical music in New Zealand.”

On a mission

She is on a mission to change all that.

“This programme will show the ability of the instrument. What you can do on marimba is many different kinds of music.”

Tsuruta uses four mallets — two in each hand — to play the marimba. The bars of a chromatic marimba are arranged like the keys of a piano. Two tiers of rosewood bars cover the same range of white and black keys.

“Rosewood is really dense wood. It gives music a nice, bright sound,” says Tsuruta.

“My instrument has extra notes than the standard, five octave, concert marimba. My marimba has five extra top notes and three extra lower notes. It gives me more scope. There is no published music for this instrument. I play a lot of arranged music. Three pieces are my own arrangements.”

A metal resonator under the keyboard amplifies the sound.

New composition shows off marimba's character

Nowicki’s composition shows off the colour and character of the marimba’s sound, says Tsuruta.

The programme includes Nabojsa Zivkovic’s 1996 work Ilijas. One of Europe’s leading percussionists, Zivcovic is known for his marimba performances.

Ilijas is a small town in Bosnia. Zivcovic’s eponymous composition, a three-part rhapsody, references folk music found in the area.

In the introduction of the piece, Zivkovic calls for a very unusual marimba technique that produces sounds reminiscent of a Franz Liszt grand piano sound, Tsuruta says in her programme notes.

“The middle part, however, uses typical marimbistic patterns, masterly composed in a number of various odd meters. Then the music returns to the melancholic mood and ends tranquillo, morendo . . .”

Morendo is a gradual softening of tone and slowing of movement.

She describes Bach’s composition for violin, Chaconne, as challenging but adaptable to a variety of instruments.

“I have also referred to different arrangements, including Brahms’ transcription for left hand piano.”

Psathas’s work One study, one summary is an exciting, soundtrack-like work composed for a marimba, recorded electronic beats and percussive instruments.

“As the title suggests, it is cast in two movements, and while the work exhibits the ‘busy’ motoric textures for which Psathas is well-known. Reflective, atmospheric textures dominate throughout,” says Tsuruta.

She will round off her performance with Romantic guitar virtuoso Giulio Regondi’s 1864 work Introduction et Caprice, Op.23.

“The last piece, composed for guitar, sounds like the tone shapes in both guitar and marimba.

“Guitar music often works on marimba.”

Marimba player Yoshiko Tsuruta performs works that range from Bach to contemporary New Zealand composer John Psathas in Musica Viva’s first spring concert. Saturday, September 2, St Andrew’s Church, 7.30pm. $30 adults, $10 students.

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