Our friend, the distinguished American composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, is celebrating her 70th birthday in April and we wish her the happiest of birthdays.
Recipient of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 1983, she was the first person to hold the Composer’s Chair in New York’s Carnegie Hall. Her works, which have often included specific commissions, have been premiered by many of the top soloists and orchestras.
She and NEXUS first joined forces in 2003 with the commissoning of her concerto for percussion quintet and chamber orchestra, “RITUALS,” which has also been recorded by NEXUS on the NAXOS label (CD# 8.559268) with the IRIS Chember Orchestra conducted by Michael Stern. Here is what has been written about “RITUALS”:
“Zwilich’s vigorously entertaining piece was written for 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 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 mantra- like mood. The animated percussionists were in excellent form, dancing around the wall of instruments like nimble cats.” (Paul Horsley, Kansas City Star)
“Like so many works inspired by the NEXUS quintet, ‘Rituals’ is a colorful sound-painting of percussion, exploring timbres usually relegated to an accenting role within the Orchestra.” (Symphony Magazine, January 2006)