It does not take long for novice symphony attendees to fix their attention on the orchestra’s percussion
section during performance. While everyone else in the orchestra sits or stands fixed in position the entire concert, percussion players are in constant motion, moving back and forth among a menagerie of strange and noisy instruments.
One moment a percussionist is coaxing thundering beats from a bass drum, then quickly walks down to the next level to tap out a nimble theme on a marimba. Or the cymbal player puts down those flashy brass discs to walk over to the massive station of tubular chimes to pound out a carillon of bell sounds.
Swedish percussionist Kjell Nordeson translated this peripatetic aspect of the orchestral percussionist into an engaging evening of solo performance art for Fresh Sound at Bread and Salt Friday (May 1) in Barrio Logan. Nordeson designed his act around the vibraphone, the instrument that allowed him his greatest display of virtuosity.
From flashy introductions and brightly arpeggiated transitions to a stylish, nuanced transcription of J. S. Bach’s Prelude in E-flat minor (from the first volume of the Well-Tempered Clavier) the ringing, magical tones of his vibraphone transformed the raw industrial space of Bread and Salt in Barrio Logan.
Although Nordeson’s program notes averred that improvisation was at the heart of his presentation, titled “Walking with Mirabeau,” its internal structure was determined by a series of recorded musical excerpts, all annotated in the printed program. These set pieces sometimes acted as transitions or actually interfaced with Nordeson’s performance. One such unexpected juxtaposition came as he lightly intoned the traditional American folk hymn “May the Circle Be Unbroken,” accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. Portions of the Stockholm Dynamic Orchestra’s jazz-inflected modernist piece intruded on his gentle rendition of the song. While this may appear to be an oil and water combination, these two sources became an uncanny, atonal rondo of sorts.
Nordeson’s vibraphone solo and the recorded straight-ahead jazz of the AALY Trio and Ken Vandermark fused naturally, and a few sets of drums alone added hypnotic rhythmic and metrical complexities to his 50-minute session.
This program capped Bonnie Wright’s Fresh Sound five-month series of percussion-based programming. Always bold and edgy, Wright’s sense of adventure is untrammeled. If her performers’ visions sometimes veer into solipsism, they are never predictable.
Wright will resume Fresh Sound with a series of New York-based musicians on September 28, 2015.