Coconut shells, wooden clogs and a nutcracker feature as both instruments and stage props in Mauricio Kagel’s trio for wooden instruments, titled “Dressur.”
On Saturday, the Yale Percussion Group will perform “Dressur” in Sprague Memorial Hall. The concert’s program will also include “Village Burial with Fire” by James Wood, “Rebonds” by Iannis Xenakis and a marimba arrangement of “Köln Concert” by Keith Jarrett.
YPG consists of the six students in the Yale School of Music’s percussion studio, led by director of percussion studies Robert van Sice. According to Kevin Zetina MUS ’20, a member of YPG, other music schools have much larger percussion studios comprising both undergraduate students and graduate students. Zetina said that the small size of YPG makes it a unique ensemble.
“Having only five graduate peers means that you each get a huge amount of specialized attention,” Zetina said. “I really love that because of the small size of the studio, we really have a lot of time and space to devote to our work.”
YPG member Russell Fisher MUS ’20 noted that YPG has a long history of producing successful professional percussionists. He said that being part of that lineage is “really humbling.”
Fisher also credited van Sice with making YPG such a remarkable ensemble.
“He has such a clear vision and is always looking for new ways to do old things,” Fisher said. “He’s done [‘Dressur’] a number of times and each time it’s different.”
Kagel composed “Dressur” in 1977. According to Fisher, Kagel believed that audio recordings detract from the experience of musical performance by conveying only auditory information — he thought that music should be a full sensory experience.
In “Dressur,” Kagel intended to reintroduce aspects of music that involved all of the senses. As a result, the piece is visual and theatrical. In addition, it employs over 50 different unconventional wooden instruments and numerous stage directions such as “lift the chair above player two’s head with a strong impulse — as if to attack.”
“Kagel really challenges preconceptions of music making,” Zetina said.
Another piece in YPG’s concert, James Wood’s “Village Burial with Fire,” was released in 1996 and follows the narrative of a Hindu burial ritual.
“I would compare Wood’s musical depiction of this event to that of a field recording rather than simply a programmatic work,” Zetina said. “Wood quite literally puts the performers in the shoes of the villagers, having them chant and scream before immersing the audience into a soundworld that one might expect of one of these burial ceremonies.”
Arlo Shultis MUS ’20, another member of YPG, described Wood’s piece as “an otherworldly musical experience that highlights percussion instruments made specifically for this piece” including microtonal wooden dowels, bamboo chimes and tone gongs.
Saturday’s program also includes two works for solo percussion. Shiqi Zhong MUS ’19 will perform movement B of Iannis Xenakis’ “Rebonds,” and Jisu Jung MUS ’19 will perform a marimba arrangement of jazz pianist Keith Jarrett’s “The Köln Concert.”
This weekend’s performance marks YPG’s only concert of the year. The members have spent months rehearsing their pieces, focusing on fine details and working to create a unified sound.
“We start with the basics of just playing the notes and rhythms together, making sure that the foundation of playing together is set,” Zetina said. “Then we start to discuss sound concepts, thinking about how we can best match each other.”
Zetina emphasized the importance of learning how to perform as a group, rather than as individuals.
“That idea of knowing your role in the piece at any given moment really helps to transform what would be four people playing together into four people playing as one unit,” Zetina said.
This careful work provides YPG with what Fisher considers one of the group’s most engaging aspects for its audiences.
“What’s always so palpable at YPG concerts, having been an audience member in a bunch of them up until now is that … you can just sense this familial camaraderie that only comes from going through the ups and downs of rehearsing something every day for long hours and living with each other for a few months and living with this music,” Fisher said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things the audience can feel on a deeper level from us.”
Saturday’s concert will begin at 7:30 p.m., and admission is free.
Eli Mennerick | firstname.lastname@example.org