REVIEW: Oregon Percussion Ensemble’s FRANK ZAPPA Tribute @ UO’s Beall Hall (Eugene, OR – - 3/7/09)
I went to the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall yesterday afternoon for a wonderful tribute to Frank Zappa put on by the UO College of Music’s Oregon Percussion Ensemble, conducted by W. Sean Wagoner. It was a show that I found out about in the Eugene Weekly… yay for the local entertainment rag for giving us last minute cool info!
The show was great… about 90 minutes including breaks. All percussion, except for a bass player and a violinist for “The Black Page Part 1 & 2.” OK, there was a pianist and a tap dancer, too… but those are technically percussion instruments. :P
- Concerto No. 1, Op. 12.3(1986) – composed by Ney Rosauro, soloist: Paul Owen (marimba)
- I. Saudacao (Greetings)
- II. Lamento (Lament)
- III. Danca (Dance)
- IV. Despedida (Farewell)
- Ionisation for thirteen percussionists (1929-1931) – composed by Edgard Varese
- Waltz (1958) – composed by Frank Zappa, soloist: Merlin Showalter (vibraphone)
- Magnesium Zapp II (2009) – composed by Charles Dowd
- The Black Page Drum Solo (1976) – composed by Frank Zappa, soloist: Paul Owen (drumset)
- The Black Page, Part I (1976) – composed by Frank Zappa
- The Black Page, Part II (1976) – composed by Frank Zappa
The first part of the first piece (Saudacao) was very Zappaesque… heavy on the marimba and xylophonic percussion… fast melodies, and the crazy percussive triplets or whatever you drummers call them. :) The rest of Concerto No. 1 wasn’t as Zappaesque, but it definitely was a great warm-up to the rest of the show. Paul Owen’s marimba work was great and the rest of the band really broke loose on this 20-something-minute piece.
Next up was Ionisation by Edgard Varese, from whom Zappa had only one degree of separation… the conductor for the first performance of Ionisation in the 30s was Nicolas Slonimsky, who later became a friend of Frank’s and also went out on tour with Zappa’s early 80s band. The piece was an avant-garde percussive piece, if set-up as designed (which I assume they did) was 3 bass drums, 2 Side drums, 2 Snare drums, tarole, 2 bongos, tambourine, tambour militaire, crash cymbal, suspended cymbals, 3 tam-tams, gong, 2 anvils, 2 triangles, sleigh bells, chimes, celesta, piano, Chinese blocks, claves, maracas, castanets, whip (instrument), guiro, high & low sirens, and a lion’s roar. I don’t remember a whip or lion’s roar… but regardless, it was fun and adventurous.
Waltz was the first official Zappa piece of the afternoon. It was about a 2 minute, 12-tone vibraphone solo by Merlin Showalter. It seemed like it was over before it started, but it was a nice piece.
Magnesium Zapp II continued in the Zappa theme… though not written by him. It was written by UO Director of Music Charles Dowd, who drew inspiration from Frank Zappa’s “Girl in the Magnesium Dress” from The Yellow Shark. It was somewhat avant-garde, improvisational with some structure. It also had small melodies written in to represent F-R-A-N-K and Z-A-P-P-A, which they went over beforehand… and it was fun to pick it out when they were playing it. Basically a 26-note run equating to the English alphabet… blah blah blah, you do the math.
Next up was The Black Page… I’d seen Terry Bozzio play this at the 2006 Zappa Plays Zappa tour in Louisville, and for the uninitiated, Zappa wrote it as a technical challenge. The musicians dreaded seeing all of the black notes on the page… hence its name.
Percussion/Battery drum transcript (PDF):
The Ensemble started this as simply a drum solo by Paul Owen. He did a great job on this 3-4 minute very technical solo. Then the solo was played again by Paul… and 9 more drummers (and a tap dancer) at the same time, nearly perfectly in sync. It was quite mind blowing seeing all 10 drum sets around the front of the stage when we got back from the short intermission, but I had no idea they all be playing the solo together. Crazy good stuff. The only downside, we could barely see the tap dancer (Alli Bach) as she was behind the drum sets, but she was going nuts and hitting all of the notes as well… per W. Sean Wagoner (the conductor), this was the world premiere of a tap dance transcription for The Black Page. :)
After the solo(s), they played the Black Page in both Zappa’s variations… the “Hard Version” and the “Easy Teenage NY Version.” Much more melodic (not all on drums, as some of the drummers moved to play other instruments). They were also joined by piano, electric violin and bass. Great stuff… about 5 minutes for each version.
Good stuff… well worth the $5… like criminally worth it.