Strings and Mallets program notes

Tuesday, August 4, 2020 , 6:30 PM

Mozart/Moore: Overture to The Marriage of Figaro

Handel/Dishinger: “Ombra mai fu” from Xerxes

Beatles/Davis “When I’m 64”

Golijo: Mariel for Cello and Marimba

Reich: Mallet Quartet for Two Marimbas and Two Vibraphones

Some pieces from this concert will be introduced during the performance rather than with program notes.

Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960)

Mariel for Cello and Marimba (1999)

Golijov’s eclectic musical background as a young man shaped the multicultural direction his adult compositions would take. Born in Argentina to Eastern European émigrés who were musicians, Golijov was surrounded by klezmer and Classical chamber music at home, while also being exposed to the tango sensation and the growing popularity of Astor Piazzolla. As a student, he traveled to Israel and the United States, where his teachers included George Crumb. Golijov’s many influences came together most notably in his powerful La Pasión Según San Marcos (The Passion of Jesus Christ According to St. Mark) from 2000, part of a series of commissions by the Oregon Bach Festival in honor of the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death.

Golijov has written that “one of the great powers of music is the possibility of capturing an instant and expanding it.” In his mournful elegy, Mariel, he aims to accomplish just such an expansion, in memory of his friend Mariel Stubrin, who died in an automobile accident in Chile. Golijov writes:

I attempted to capture that short instant before grief, in which one learns of the sudden death of a friend who was full of life: a single moment frozen forever in one’s memory, and which reverberates through the piece, among the waves and echoes of the Brazilian music that Mariel loved.

The work begins with a sforzando shock in the percussive marimba (Golijov’s expressive direction here is, “Like an asteroid.”) But the remainder of the piece floats timelessly, an echo of this initial jolt, with a focus on gently lyrical, melodic descents. Golijov arranged the piece for cello and orchestra, a version which was premiered by Maya Beiser and Steve Schick at Merkin Concert Hall in 2008.


Steve Reich (b. 1936)

Mallet Quartet for Two Marimbas and Two Vibraphones

Steve Reich is among the small group of American composers credited with establishing the so-called minimalist movement in music in the 1960s. Manipulation of repeated rhythmic/motivic cells are Reich’s hallmark, most famously in his “phasing” music which presents two identical lines that begin simultaneously and gradually progress out of phase with one another. The Mallet Quartet is not a phase work, but it does make frequent use of repetitive ostinato and canon (which can be interpreted as a “frozen” phase). Reich uses the marimbas to set the harmonic landscape—the five-octave version of the instrument that Reich uses allows for a rich, timbral bed. The vibraphones present the thematic material.

The first movement begins by setting up the rhythmic backdrop in the two marimbas, which continues as an ostinato through the entire movement. Those familiar with other pieces by Reich will recognize the composer’s voice here: the pattern consists of a mixture of long and short durations just complex enough to avoid easy predictability. It repeats in 2-measure (6-beat) groups, with the two marimbas playing interlocking rhythmic patterns (one with 14 attacks, the other with 16). With this steady foundation, the vibraphones enter and exit sectionally. The brighter sound of the vibraphone is exploited to create long melodic gestures—a feature less characteristic of other Reich scores. During these sections, the second vibraphone usually enters after the first, as both revisit the previously stated melody now in tight canon. These vibraphone exchanges build to the final section’s dramatic rising unison, setting up the transition to the next movement.

The second movement is unusual. The two-measure structure is maintained, and the basic 14-attack pattern from the first movement marimba is preserved in the leading vibraphone part, though considerably slowed so as to render it masked. As the movement progresses, Reich deconstructs the basic pattern, to create an expressively fragmented feel. The marimbas are particularly sparse, and the gentle percussive effects are felt more in the sudden vibraphone-dampening cutoffs than in the note attacks. The measured progression here allows us to take in the rich, sometimes crunchy, harmonies which seem to evolve as colors in a turning kaleidoscope.

The organizing principle of the third movement mirrors that of the first. Marimbas set the rhythmic ostinato, and the vibraphones enter sectionally, usually beginning with one alone, and the second entering later in canon. The ostinato here is significantly different than the first movement, however, projecting a continuous 27-note cycle in two registers to create a complex long-short cycle (LLSSLSLSSLS), which Reich subtly varies as the sections progress. As in the first movement, the final section here culminates in a powerful climax as the vibraphones join the marimba ostinato in gradual ascent.

—Program notes by Jon Kochavi