MAW Percussion’s Bang-Up Beginning

By Steven Libowitz   |   June 20, 2019
MAW faculty member Michael Werner (photo by Yuen Lui Studio)

Michael Werner, who left college when he was appointed Principal Percussionist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, also played percussion with the Metropolitan Opera for 13 years before joining the Seattle Symphony as its principal in 2009. So the 15-year MAW veteran faculty member pronounced himself pretty thrilled that the academy will perform the West Coast premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s new opera Cold Mountain in early August. 

“She loves percussion and writes well for it,” Werner explained last Monday, just hours after the 2019 Summer Festival began. “The score has three percussionists and a lot of playing. That’s pretty rare for an opera. It’s going to be great.”

But first there’s a lot of other classical percussion programming to be addressed, including this Tuesday’s first Festival Artists Series performance at the Lobero, when Werner and all five of this year’s percussion fellows – Christine Comer, Jake Darnell, Luca Esposito, Maddi Shake, and David Yangsoo Yoon – join faculty pianists Natasha KislenkoandMargaret McDonald for Victor Derevianko’s piano-plus-percussion reduction of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances.

“We’re filling out and covering all of the percussion that would be played by the full orchestra,” Werner said. “It’s a great piece and fun that all of us get to be on stage. And it’s sensitive in how quickly the dynamics shift and intimate because there are only two other people representing the full orchestra. It’s a great challenge and a wonderful way to start the season.”

Actually, the public portion for the percussionists begins the previous evening, with Werner serving as one of the faculty members for the master class sampler on Monday night, when each of the fellows will play a small excerpt from the opera or orchestral repertoire on xylophone or bells. “It’s an example of what is needed to get from being a student to winning an audition to play in an orchestra, which is where most of the jobs are,” Werner explained. “It’s all about tone, sound and dynamic control because that’s the reality of what we do – those short tiny moments when the percussionist stands up and plays.”

There will be far more room for showing off percussion’s expanse during the annual PercussionFest, slated for July 22, which will feature a co-commission by Dave Merrick for two marimbas and two vibraphones. The piece is so new that Werner hasn’t even heard it yet, but he promised the concert will also feature “a little bit of everything – a big drumming piece and some interesting works you don’t hear very often.” The latter includes Drew Worden’s 2014 “Escape: Sextet for Triangles,” which, as the title indicates, will feature all five fellows plus Werner wielding the three-sided metal ringers. “It’s fun to take an instrument that has been shelved as a bit of a gag since (Martin Short’s Ed Grimley sketch on) Saturday Night Live and see how it can be surprisingly interesting and challenge the players,” Werner said.

This Week @ Music Academy of the West

Thursday, June 20: The remainder of the ongoing instrumental master classes get underway for the summer, with Clarinet, Trombone & Tuba, Violin and Trumpet debuted today (1 & 3:15 pm; Hahn, Weinman and Lehmann halls)… Tonight, Jerome Lowenthal love-fest to mark his 50th anniversary at MAW continues with the annual PianoFest, featuring an introductory performance by all eight 2019 Solo Piano fellows: Alexander Lee Agate, Salome Jordania, Clayton Stephenson, Stephanie Tang, Chelsea Wang, Arthur Wenxuan Wang, Elliot Wuu, and 20-year-old ‘18 returnee Johanna Elisabeth Bufler (7:30 pm; Hahn Hall; $35). 

Friday, June 21: Lowenthal himself leads his sole master class of the summer as his 2019 residency only lasts 10 days this year (1 pm; Hahn; sold out)… At 5 pm, MAW marks the first day of summer with a free tour of the stunningly beautiful Miraflores campus, just a hop, skip and jump from Butterfly Beach. Music Academy volunteer docents pick up the participants at the entrance to Hahn Hall… In keeping with the outdoor theme, tonight also offers the first of the season’s Picnic Concerts, the popular chamber music evenings that feature academy fellows performing programs of their choice. Music lovers can enjoy any of the myriad picnic areas on the Miraflores grounds prior to the concert, which has a special focus for tonight’s debut, via showcasing the 16 fellows participating in MAW’s String Quartet Seminar. The eight violinists, four violists and four cellist collectively will perform excerpts from Beethoven’s Op. 59, No. 3, “Razumovsky”; Op. 74, “Harp”; and Op. 95, “Serioso”, plus Janacek’s No. 2, “Intimate Letters”; Mozart’s B-flat Major, K. 589; Bartok’s No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 17; Shostakovich’s No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73; and Ravel’s Quartet in F Major (7:30 pm; Hahn; $40).

Saturday, June 22: While much of Santa Barbara celebrates the advent of summer via the annual Solstice Parade and celebration in Alameda Park, MAW marches to a different beat back on campus, as the Academy Festival Orchestra kicks off its calendar with a special first-week concert in the insanely intimate Hahn Hall, which seats only about 20 percent of the capacity at the Granada, the AFO’s home for the rest of its schedule. On the other hand, Hahn is also where the orchestral fellows rehearse, so they’ll be quite comfortable for an exciting program anchored by Beethoven’s Eroica symphony. The opening piece is also a new twist, as it features one of last year’s Concerto Competition winners, New Zealand pianist Sylvia Qianhui Jiang, serving as soloist for a full reading of Franck’s Symphonic Variations. As has been the tradition for the last decade, Larry Rachleff conducts (7:30 pm; Hahn; sold out). 

Monday, June 24: The season’s first master class sampler – created both to make the program available to those who aren’t free during weekdays and to showcase more than one instrument/faculty member in a single sitting – features trumpeter Charlie Geyer, vocal coach Nino Sanikidze, and percussionist Michael Werner [See above for an interview with Werner] (7:30 pm; Hahn; $10). 

Tuesday, June 25: The academy’s Festival Artists Series (MAFAS), consisting of chamber music featuring one-off ensembles of (mostly) faculty members and a few fellows, gets underway tonight with a widely varied program starting with Monteverdi’s Four Madrigals, with Julie Landsman horn, Barbara Butler, Charles Geyer trumpet, Mark H. Lawrence trombone, and Noah Alexander Roper trombone. Tuba fellow Colin Benton replaces Roper for MAW faculty member Ralph Sauer’s arrangement of Bach’s Contrapuncti 1, 4 & 9 for Brass Quartet before violinist Kathleen Winkler, cellist Alan Stepansky, and pianist Jonathan Feldman tackle Schumann’s Trio in D Minor, Op. 63. See above for details about the final piece, Symphonic Dances. A complimentary, festive reception with the artists follows each performance in the Lobero courtyard. (7:30 pm; Lobero Theatre; $46).


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