Fabian Ziegler, Raphael Christen
Dorman / Viñao / Reich / Séjourné

Der MaiHof, Lucerne, 2019-12-01

4-star rating

2020-12-11 — Original posting



Outline


Introduction

About the Concert

In a concert last January (2019-01-27), the Foundation by Migros Kulturprozent Classics offered a half-hour pre-concert for young artists that they supported. That particular pre-concert featured the “Cosmic Percussion Ensemble“, a group of 5 (out of 6) percussionists giving an interesting recital on marimbas and other percussion instruments. A few weeks ago, Fabian Ziegler, one of these young artists (see below), invited me to attend one or several of his upcoming concerts. After checking my (dense) schedule, I agreed to attend two of these—the first one being this recital for two marimbas.

Venue, Location

The concert took place in the Church St.Joseph — MaiHof (short: Der MaiHof) in the North of the town of Lucerne (a 25-minute walk from Lucerne train station). It’s a Catholic church, built in the 1950’s that also is used a event venue. As a concert hall, one can characterize this as a mid-size “shoebox” type hall, with the one peculiarity of a slightly curved ceiling.

I had previously been in this venue once, for an orchestral exam concert for the Lucerne conservatory of music. Despite its flat, unstructured walls (the only structure in the hall is a lateral niche in the choir, holding a pipe organ), the acoustics in this venue are fairly good. It was interesting to experience how the sound of two marimbas would be fitting into the church.

Series, Context, etc.

This concert was the second one in a series “Marimba Recital Concerts 2019/2020” in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

Setting, etc.

There were around 50 listeners, filling less than half of the chairs that have been set up in the front part of the nave. That may seem like a small audience, but is actually not bad for a privately organized concert with “exotic” instruments. I took a seat in a rear row, on the left side of the middle corridor. This allowed me to set up my camera (DSLR) on a tripod. All pictures below are by the author (© Rolf Kyburz, all rights reserved). The animated GIFs were created through GIFMaker.me, a free “animated GIF maker” Web site.


Fabian Ziegler & Raphael Christen @ Maihof, Lucerne, 2019-12-01 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Fabian Ziegler & Raphael Christen @ Maihof, Lucerne, 2019-12-01

The Artist(s)

The young Swiss percussionist Fabian Ziegler (*1995) is an emerging talent that is rapidly building a career, performing in orchestras (such as the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich), as a member of various formations, such as the “Cosmic Percussion Ensemble“, his own percussion group, the Colores Trio, and in duo performances with the Lithuanian pianist Akvilė Šileikaitė (see my report from another pre-concert on 2019-05-26). In a few days, I’m planning on attending a concert by the duo Fabian Ziegler / Akvilė Šileikaitė.

Fabian Ziegler got his music education from the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK). Here, he also met his teacher, Raphael Christen (*1969), who joined him in this marimba recital concert.


Program

The program in this marimba recital concert featured four works by contemporary composers:


Concert & Review

Fabian Ziegler & Raphael Christen @ Maihof, Lucerne, 2019-12-01 (© Rolf Kyburz)

Avner Dorman (*1975): Udacrep Akubrad

This is not my first encounter with the Israeli composer Avner Dorman (*1975, see also Wikipedia): I have written about a performance of his 2007 composition “Frozen in Time” in a concert in Zurich on 2016-09-14.

The composition Udacrep Akubrad exists in two variants: the original chamber version from 2001 is for two musicians, each performing on a marimba (5 octaves), two darbukas (goblet drums), and a tom-tom drum. In 2003, Dorman also created a version for percussion and orchestra. In this recital, as far as I could see, two bongos were used in lieu of the darbukas.

As Fabian Ziegler explained in the concert, Udacrep Akubrad was Avner Dorman’s first composition for two percussionists. It was dedicated to the Indian conductor Zubin Mehta (*1936).

The Performance

There was no need to “acclimatize” one’s hearing to the acoustics, or to the sound of the instruments. Within a second, or with the first tones, the listener felt embedded in the warm, full soundscape that the two marimbas created. The acoustics proved ideal for these instruments: their sound filled the venue over their entire 5-octaves tonal range. Throughout the concert, Raphael Christen performed fully by heart. Fabian Ziegler did have a tablet set up, but he also very often (mostly?) performed from memory.

As Raphael Christen explained to me after the concert, in order for a marimba performance to work, the artist can barely read the score on-the-fly (let alone do sight-reading). Rather, it’s not so much the notes, but the motions, or the motion pattern of the two hands (two sticks each) which one must memorize. The visual coordination is not so much between a score and the brain, but rather matching the motion memory with the physical layout of the marimba. And, in this concert, keeping an eye on the colleague’s motions.

The Music

Dorman’s piece essentially uses one particular (rhythmic) groove throughout, consisting of two distinct beats, followed by a melodious sequence of small notes that strongly remind of Gamelan music. It’s a pattern that is almost omnipresent (almost like a Passacaglia). It immediately sticks to one’s mind. It is not only “groovy” as such, but it also allows the listener to focus on the variations, the “extras” (such as melodic variations, or occasional moves onto the bongos and/or the tom-tom). The music effortlessly takes the listener along, makes him/her feel with the music. After a soft, subtle segment with melodious murmuring “in the underground”, the music intensifies, turns more percussive, moves onto bongos and tom-tom. And then, the opening pattern returns, closing the circle. Interesting music, for sure, and enthralling, often with a mesmerizing component.

Needless to say that the performance was at a high level, technically and musically/rhythmically. The coordination was excellent. As Raphael Christen later explained, Fabian Ziegler may have started off as his pupil and is still taking lessons, but by now is long performing and interacting with him at eye level. Congrats!


Fabian Ziegler & Raphael Christen @ Maihof, Lucerne, 2019-12-01 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Fabian Ziegler & Raphael Christen @ Maihof, Lucerne, 2019-12-01

Alejandro Viñao (*1951): Dance Groove Drifting

For details on the Argentinian composer Alejandro Viñao (*1951) see also Wikipedia. In 2011, in response to a commission by a large group of percussionists and organizations, Viñao wrote the Book of Grooves, for two marimbas. That’s a collection of four pieces. The last one of these is Dance Groove Drifting.

The Performance

This piece begins with a short ostinato pattern on one instrument (Raphael Christen), while the other marimba injects melodic fragments that are repeated in themselves like multiple echoes, fading away, similar to sampling. These rhythmically and melodically rich / complex injections are playing around the basic ostinato pattern. Unlike Dorman’s piece (which seemed to turn around one single drone for most of the time), Viñao modulates, creating a series of segments, each with its own tonality. This opens new perspectives, adds extra colors, creates a lively “kaleidoscope of echo chambers”.

It was interesting to watch how well the two musicians maintained coordination, each seemingly concentrated, focused on his marimba, only occasionally checking the partner through a very quick glance. The echo / sampling pattern required subtle dynamic control, which also helped structuring the flow. This avoided uniformity, and it also avoided listener getting lost in the rhythmic complexity.


Fabian Ziegler & Raphael Christen @ Maihof, Lucerne, 2019-12-01 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Fabian Ziegler & Raphael Christen @ Maihof, Lucerne, 2019-12-01

Steve Reich (*1936): Piano Phase

Steve Reich (*1936, see also Wikipedia) does not require an introduction. He is one of the inventors and key exponents of minimal music. A prominent work in that genre is Piano Phase, for two pianos or two marimbas, from 1967.

The Performance

Absolutely fascinating music—and a prime example of minimal music! Here, Raphael Christen kept repeating the same, short, but intricate pattern / ostinato throughout (four sticks). On top of that, Fabian Ziegler (using two sticks) performed his own ostinato pattern, over and over again… but at a slightly (minimally) slower pace (or faster? hard to tell!). Over time, i.e., over some repetitions, this creates a gradual rhythmic shift, and after typically 12 – 16 cycles, the rhythms appear coordinated again, but now shifted by one note (quaver or semiquaver), then the shifting continues on and on.

After a short while, the listener loses track of either pattern (it is extremely hard to keep track of one component only). Rather, the flow alternates between “gradually shifting” and “in phase” moments, whereby these short in-phase moments appear to create random / arbitrary “melodic artifacts”.

The overall effect is that of an utterly mesmerizing flow (fascinating in itself), in which melodic / rhythmic motifs (collisions?) “pop up at random”. And observing, watching out for these “collisions” is what really makes this music interesting and fascinating! In the latter part of the piece, the artists switch to a higher octave, and the music ends abruptly. In a way, experiencing this music is similar to listening to a rich set of church bells, each swaying with its own individual and unrelated period / pace. It’s just that here, the shifting is between two components “only”, and not random, but controlled and systematic.

How?

I talked to Raphael Christen after the concert about this piece. Not surprisingly, he told me that it is impossible to coordinate these “loosely coordinated” tracks: in his role of playing the base pattern, he had to focus stubbornly on his own rhythm / pattern, and the same was true for the other part, of course. The rhythmic shifting cannot be coordinated actively. One “merely” must make sure one’s pace is a tad faster (or slower) than the other.

Piano or marimba? Without having heard the two versions side-by-side (I have heard other pieces by Steve Reich on pianos), I would claim that the piano offers more clarity, sounds more “analytic”, but the marimba sounds more atmospheric, is also more mesmerizing. A highly interesting experience, for sure, even just imagining how challenging the gradual shifting (“phasing”) is!


Fabian Ziegler & Raphael Christen @ Maihof, Lucerne, 2019-12-01 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Fabian Ziegler & Raphael Christen @ Maihof, Lucerne, 2019-12-01

Emmanuel Séjourné (*1961): Departures

Emmanuel Séjourné (*1961, see also Wikipedia) is a French composer and percussionist. Séjourné is head of percussion at the Conservatoire de Strasbourg. Departures from 2005 is a duo for 2 marimbas (5 octaves). As Fabian Ziegler explained, the composition consists of two parts, a slow chorale-like segment, and a second one that is more “groovy”.

The Performance

A totally different soundscape, not resembling any of the other pieces: it starts off with waves of low, soft, “cloudy” tremolo sounds / chords, forming melancholic, maybe archaic melody fragments, gradually rising into higher spheres—very atmospheric. The second part has much more of a rhythmic underpinning, the melody now is faster, but retains the melancholy. It reminded of a Tango or Fado. Gradually, it picks up rhythm, gains melodic and rhythmic complexity, more pace, then drive and momentum, up to a climax, retracting, starting a new build-up. Initially still slightly melancholic, it more and more turned into the joy of a whirling dance. A fascinating composition also this!


Encore — Yann Tiersen: Comptine d’un autre été — l’après-midi

For the encore, Raphael Christen moved over to the left, where a Vibraphone had been set up. The composition was by Yann Tiersen (*1970, see also Wikipedia): “Comptine d’un autre été: l’après-midi. This is a well-known piece used in the soundtrack of the 2001 film Amélie (Original French title: Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain, English: The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain).

Here, Fabian Ziegler performed the warm, harmonious left hand part of the piano score (4 sticks), while Raphael Christen exploited the intense legato / singing quality of the vibraphone. He did not activate the wobbling mechanism: this would have sounded too trivial here, I think. A popular, atmospheric piece to end the one-hour recital. Maybe a little treat (with the potential to turn into an earworm!) for listeners who might have been overwhelmed by the rhythmic intricacies in some of the preceding pieces?


Conclusions

It felt good to experience music and sounds that are vastly different from the (my) “everyday concert experience”! It was a most enjoyable experience, worth the trip to Lucerne. And no, it never was superficial in any way (not even the encore, even though that certainly was much simpler, musically), but an excellent mix of enthralling and atmospheric music: drive, contemplation / mesmerizing, warmth, intricacy, motoric segments, etc. …



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