Wadsworth's Four Laws for Two Percussionists (world premiere)
performed at Staunton Music Festival
August 17, 2015
Trinity Episcopal Church, Staunton, VA
I-Jen Fang and Brian Smith, percussion
Video by Stewart Searle
About the Music
Great works of art are typically products of strife in some form. Sometimes the strife is personal, biographical, relating to the life situation of the creator; think of Vincent Van Gogh or Beethoven. Other times, the tension centers on the process itself: how to express a concept in either inherited or newly invented forms of communication? At its most fundamental, musical composition begins with recognizing how music’s rules work. Subsequent decisions then reflect one’s particular stance toward the rules. Are they to be followed? Subverted? Refined? Flagrantly ignored?
In our generalizing tendency, we like to position composers along a spectrum between rule- and pattern-based methods at one end (perhaps J.S. Bach, minimalism) and spontaneous, irreverent free forms at the other (C.P.E. Bach, Dadaism). Admittedly, this is a gross over-simplification of the matter. But even when composers intentionally try to avoid all rules and conventions, they cannot escape their influence—even if those rules offer nothing more than suggestions about what not to do.
“What are the laws that govern music?” With this question, composer-in-residence Zachary Wadsworth began the process that led to Four Laws for Two Percussionists, receiving its world premiere in this performance. Wadsworth continues:
This question is at once impossible to answer and animating to consider. Music, like society, set up its own laws, whether they be of form, motive, timbre, or harmony. But, even truer to society, music regularly breaks its own rules. Ultimately, composing is the process of establishing, and then thwarting, laws. My Four Laws for Two Percussionists explores this process. First, the performers search for a musical pattern, alternating with ever-shifting pulses until a two-note motive emerges. Then, the performers spend the second movement passing the motive between them, never allowing for a single beat’s rest. In the third movement, the creative impulse takes over, and the motive grows and flowers in variation. Finally, the performers look beyond the motive, ending with explosive and vibrant new music.
Completed in summer 2015, Four Laws for Two Percussionists is dedicated to I-Jen Fang and Brian Smith, who perform it in this video.
(c) Jason Stell, 2015
I-Jen Fang joined the faculty of the University of Virginia in 2005 and as the Principal Timpanist and Percussionist of the Charlottesville Symphony. She received her BFA from Carnegie Mellon University, MM from Northwestern University and DMA degree from the University of North Texas. I-Jen has performed or recorded with artists such as Keiko Abe, William Cahn, Christopher Deane, Mark Ford, Mike Mainieri, Attacca Percussion Group, and Da Capo Chamber Players. She has performed as marimba soloist in Taiwan, U.S., Austria, France, Hungary, Romania, and South Africa and appeared as a featured performer at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention. I-Jen Fang is an Innovative Percussion Artist.
Praised for his feline-like grace as a percussionist, Brian Smith delivers “committed and energetic” performances with a versatile repertoire that includes historical, contemporary, and experimental musical practices. As a co-founder of ScreenPlay, he pursues a deep interest in experimental musical practices and improvisation through audio-visual works that utilize animated notational schemes. Brian has performed with ensembles throughout the U.S. and Europe, appearing in Amsterdam's Concertgebouw and the Berlin Philharmonie. He plays period timpani and percussion with the Staunton Music Festival, and his ethnographic interests include West African drumming and dance from Ghana, Togo, and Benin.
Inspired by the theatrical setting of Blackfriars Playhouse, Wadsworth composed The Doctor for two principal voices and instrumental trio. A modern-day medical farce, The Doctor was an audience favorite at its premiere captured in this video.
One of the most successful aspects of Zach's style is his ability to refresh well-known material for new audiences, a feature that comes to the fore in his many song arrangements. For a Hollywood-themed program in 2017 he created a lovely version of Arlen's classic from The Wizard of Oz.
Wadsworth has also explored composition involving electronics, as in this new work for solo oboe and tape. The texts draw upon letters written by American poet Alan Seeger during The First World War, and the solo oboe is performed by Roger Roe.
Zachary Wadsworth first appeared at Staunton Music Festival as an "Emerging Composer" in 2011. Since then he has written over a dozen commissioned works for the festival and has appeared as pianist and tenor each season. Wadsworth brings originality and true poetry to all that he creates.
Written for and dedicated to contralto Sara Couden, these four quixotic songs were premiered in 2014 by Couden and Wadsworth. The texts by Hilaire Belloc become a springboard for Wadsworth's delightful musical whimsy.
While teaching at Williams College in western Massachusetts, Zachary Wadsworth sends a short postcard from his home in Troy, NY. A familiar face at SMF concerts since his debut in 2011, Zach talks about his rewarding experiences teaching and living near Williams College.
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