I have an affinity with Philadelphia. It’s not because I make bells and they have a cracked bell. It’s not because I am a historian, which I am not. Nor am I a Philadelphia sports fan. I like cream cheese, but it’s not that either. I was reminded that my connection to Philadelphia is through music when I recently participated in a wonderful week honoring the legendary percussionist Alan Abel. Mr. Abel played with the Philadelphia Orchestra for nearly 40 years (‘59-’97) and taught at Temple University for almost the same amount of time. I knew about his musical achievements and advancements in the area of percussion instruments when I was in boarding school (thanks to classmate Michael Udow who was from Philadelphia). For those of you who don’t know, he showed the musical world how a bass drum should sound by suspending it in a hoop attached with thick rubber bands. By doing so, the bass drum is free to vibrate and sustain its beautiful low tones.
If this wasn’t enough, he came up with the ultimate triangle that could be heard over the loudest passages of a large orchestra. My high school orchestra had a bass drum with an Abel stand and we used his triangle back then (at the Interlochen Arts Academy in the late 60’s).
Another connection is through my conservatory timpani teacher, Cloyd Duff of the Cleveland Orchestra, who studied at the Curtis Institute of Music. His teacher, Oscar Schwar who played 43 seasons with the Philadelphia Orchestra, helped to define the sound that we all strive for. That sort of makes me his grand-student.
Abel has over 65 former students in major orchestras throughout the world. The concert that paid tribute to him drove home the fact that the percussionists in the Philadelphia Orchestra and those teaching and playing in Philadelphia are carrying on the tradition of incredible musicianship. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znRCbA8aAfQ
The third connection is through NEXUS (which actually means “connection”). Bill grew up in Philadelphia, Bob grew up not far from Philadelphia and Russell attended Curtis (former Nexus member John Wyre was also from Philadelphia). Wonderful works by Bob and Russell were on the Abel concert. Besides the concert honoring Mr. Abel, NEXUS joined with students from Curtis in a performance of two of Steve Reich’s classics, Music For Pieces of Wood and Drumming (complete). Again, that concert proved that the next generation is carrying on the tradition of excellence while updating the repertoire.
The Abel event was in celebration of his 85th birthday (11 months late) and was in collaboration with the Curtis Institute of Music and Temple University. Performers included NEXUS (Bob Becker, Bill Cahn, Russell Hartenberger and me), Philadelphia Orchestra members (Percussionists / Timpanists Don Liuzzi, Christopher Deviney, Angie Zator Nelson and Tony Orlando, violinists Hirono Oka and Lisa-Beth Lambert, violist Che-Hung Chen and cellist Yumi Kendall), Alan Abel (percussion / conductor), Pablo Batista (percussion), Rolando Morales-Matos (percussion), Phillip O’Banion (percussion / conductor) and Natalie Zhu (piano).
I am not from Philadelphia, nor did I study there, so, my Philadelphia affinity is with its music and musicians. It was a true honor to perform with these amazing musicians in this amazing musical city.
Photos: Lauren Vogel Weiss