Kansas City Star – February 19, 2007
The Kansas City Symphony’s percussion-themed program for this weekend looked ingenious and fun on paper. Haydn’s ‘Drum Roll’ Symphony with its opening timpani lick was paired with Stravinsky’s raucous ‘The Rite of Spring,’ and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s recent ‘Rituals’ for percussion and orchestra was sandwiched between.
On the plus side was Zwilich’s vigorously entertaining piece written for the percussion ensemble NEXUS, whose five members were on hand for the performance.
As they struck, stroked, shook, tapped and bowed, the nearly 100 instruments lined up against the back of the stage. Conductor Michael Stern led with assurance, neatly blending the kaleidoscopic percussion sonorities into the orchestral fabric. Zwilich’s language here is complex yet approachable, attractive for its transparent textures and fundamentally tonal. At times it lapses into John Adams’ cheerful, gee-whiz minimalist mode, but it can be atmospheric and dense.
At the outset, the percussion itself created a series of angular melodies, using everything from xylophones to cymbals, gongs to tubular bells ” and of course lots of drums. At other times they accompanied sweeping violin melodies, punctuated exuberant wind chords with metallic bursts, or used gongs to create a mantralike mood.
The animated percussionists were in excellent form, dancing around the wall of instruments like nimble cats.