The Sound of Four Hands Drumming
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
03/18/2009 - & March 19, 20, 21, 2009
Avner Dorman: Spices, Perfumes, Toxins! Concerto For Percussion Duo and Large Orchestra
Béla Bartók: Concerto For Orchestra, BB 129, Sz.116
PercaDu: Tomer Yariv, Adi Morag (Duo-Percussionists)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta (Conductor)
The stage of Avery Fisher Hall resembled the set for a science fiction movie more than a concert last night. The full orchestra was seated at the back of the stage. In the middle was the conductor’s dais. But overwhelming the left and right sides was a phalanx of tools which probably could have sent half the audience up to Mars if necessary.
This was the standard equipment for Israel’s most famous “duo-percussionists” (are there any others??) known as PercaDu. And they were set to play the New York and New York Philharmonic premiere of a work tantalizingly titled Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!, by Israeli composer Avner Dorman.
Mr. Dorman isn’t well known in America yet, but his PBS interview and other programs around town showed him to be an eloquent describer of timbre, color, a rather conservative harmonic language and undoubted mastery of any orchestral forces. Which is exactly what we found in this three-movement piece.
No question about it, PercaDu are amazing. They began with two marimbas, punctuating that with a few drum plucks, then went onto vibraphones, and finally, in the “toxin” movement, they attacked the phalanx of tools. Not only tom-toms and wind chimes, but Turkish hand drums, Arabic cowbells and Arabic tambourines, Japanese drums and a couple of darbukas, the Egyptian drum which resembles the Indian tablah.
Their playing was pinpoint perfect, each gong, whispering tom-tom beat, vibraphone vibration and clanging chime in sync with the other side of the stage. They worked independently of Mr. Mehta, but the conductor himself had to work in the orchestral accompaniment. (The orchestra may or may not have been interesting, for they were overwhelmed by the percussion. But since Mr. Mehta helped commission the work, and played it with the Israel Philharmonic, he obviously knew it well.). The irony was that, with all this amazing performing, the work itself was totally accessible. It was, in fact, easy listening, though meters changed, constantly, as did the instruments. But each movement had its own character.
The ”Spice” was a set of Indian-Arabic modes, mainly on marimba, becoming more and more complex, finally working over, oh so subtly to the drums. Mr. Dorman is not a plagiarist, but his “Perfume” was harmonically and even with some phrases, a reflection of the famed Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez slow movement. With atmosphere like that, one doesn’t question the origin. The final Toxin was anything but poisonous. It was a delirious “dueling drummers” for a rousing finale.
For an encore, the duo-percussionists played a complex set of Bach variations on two marimbas. The famed marimbist Nakura Makoto does the same Bach on one instrument, but PercaDu added a greater dimension.
Zubin Mehta resumed as conductor, for the Béla Bartók Concerto For Orchestra, a work so transparently brilliant it could be an orchestral string quartet. Mr. Mehta had the right orchestra to perform it, but I was hoping to hear great music, not a great orchestra performing a concerto. The latter was true, but Mr. Mehta made certain that this piece was positive, jaunty, light, heavy on the musical ironies and simply having a good time with the endless display of resplendent tunes and ravishing colors.