Concerti Project

Concerti for Piano and Percussion Project (2015-2017)

The award winning MCCORMICK PERCUSSION GROUP is recognized by composers and aficionados throughout the world for their creative interpretations and recordings of unique and often out of the mainstream of percussion literature.  From 2015 to 2017, MPG collaborates with pianist Eunmi Ko to premiere five different concerti by composer Matt Barber, Seunghee Lee, John Liberatore, Ciro Scotto, and Baljinder Sekhon. These works will be recorded and published by Ravello Records in 2017.

“Earle Brown’s exquisite December 1952, nine minutes of poetry played from an iconic example of graphic notation… There is not one measure in anything they play that doesn’t come magically alive, as if it were being heard in the composer’s mind for the first exhilarating time…” –  Gramophone Magazine

Robert McCormick, director
Eunmi Ko, piano
McCormick Percussion Group, ensemble
*Recording will be published on Ravello label and distributed by Naxos

Composers
Matt Barber
Seunghee Lee 
John Liberatore 
Baljinder Sekhon 
Ciro Scotto

All four concerts take place in the USF Concert Hall
Nov 1, 2015
April 3, 2016
Oct 30, 2016
April 2, 2017

Concert No.1
November 1, 2015
Concert Hall, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL
this living air by John Liberatore

The title, “this living air“, as well as the movement subtitles, are drawn from a cycle of poems by Garrett Brown titled Manna Sifting. While the music is not knowingly inspired by or otherwise bed on the poems, the poetry helps me articulate a metaphor or commentary for the music I’ve created. To put it more simply, the poems “fit” the music, at least in my opinion. Manna Sifting is a cycle of six poems. With permission from the poet, I include here the tree poems from which my titles are excerpted:

From Manna Sifting:
What the Window Said
This light that pours through me
is not my own. I’ve seen
you lie in bed after waking to watch
dusts motes float
like angels in a streak of morning.

You imagine each one is a cell
dead skin,
as if all night your body
has seen snowing into air. There was a time
when prayer was the slender hand
that soothed you into dreamless sleep.
But then the curtain was torn and then the night
became raw as god
tumbled out of the sky and slept
inanimate across the yellowed grass,
his body decomposing into the wet fog
you will sift for scraps of manna.

What Michelangelo Said
It is not the mold
that is empty, waiting
to be filled with metal
conquered by fire. But I,
hollowed by desire
for that which I adore,
the breath, the thumping
heart of this fragile life;
this molten spirit pours
into me through such
brief moments
that to draw it out, I must
be shattered and torn.

What the Tomatoes Said
Tonight you cook eggplant
and remember it is a nightshade,
a mandrake root with claws
imbedded in your brain.

who can comprehend
garlic’s smell, the sizzle
of onion in olive oil,
the fragrant green of basil?
These are the days of veneration, drop
to your knees and drink this living air.

this living air  was commissioned and premiered by Robert McCormick and the McCormick Percussion Group with pianist Eunmi Ko. The work is dedicated to Eunmi, with great admiration for a long-time collaborator and friend.
–John Liberatore

Concert No.2
April 3, 2016
Concert Hall, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL
Pung-Kyung by Seunghee Lee  and Kid Stuff  by Matt Barber

Pung-Kyung has several meanings in Korean language. Two of its meanings I used as my inspiration in my piece is a ‘scenery’ and ‘wind chime’. By adopting the two different meanings, one for visual image and the other for sonic sensation, the piece creates an atmosphere, which invites audience to take an imaginary tour of undisclosed countryside of Korea.

My harmonic language and melodic components for this piece are not directly related to those of Korean traditional music, however, I have incorporated repetitive yet unpredictable rhythmic patterns of Korean traditional music in this piece. In addition to the noticeable patterns of repeated rhythms, various timbral combinations generated by percussion instruments and piano is another main idea of this piece. – Seunghee Lee

Concerto No. 3
Oct 30, 2016
Dark Paradise, Ciro Scotto

Concert No.4
April 2, 2017
Kid Stuff, Matt Barber
Six Movements for Piano and Percussion, Baljinder Sekhon

Kid Stuff is a collection of five compositions written for and dedicated to Eunmi Ko, Robert McCormick, and the McCormick Percussion Group. The pieces are impressions from and about childhood.
A Chimera is a mythical beast built from the parts of three animals (usually lion, goat, and serpent). I vividly remember their appearance in the bestiaries of video games I was fond of in my tweens. “Chimera” has also come to mean something wished for that can only be achieved in the imagination, or in dreams. My piece involves elements from each shade of meaning. It is a fantasia in three parts, grafted onto each other without transition: the first is breakneck loud music; the middle is softer with virtuosic but lyrical passages in the piano interspersed with ostinati in the percussion; the final is structured cacophony with piano and ensemble both shifting tempo independent of one another underneath occasional extroverted outbursts from everyone. All this music employs piano and percussion techniques not always traditionally suited to the instruments, which creates an “imaginary” sound world where everyone pushes against- and in places probably exceeds-the limits of physical possibility. The musical ideas are often inchoate and fleeting, disappearing just before they are apprehended.
I composed Night Owl very slowly over the course of six months while my twin daughters were infants, a time when I was spending a great deal of time awake at night, listening. Having grown up a block from a busy interstate amid factories, truck stops, and a rail yard, I do not associate nighttime with quiet, but rather with secret, ominous sounds that occur intermittently over the constant hum of machinery and traffic. The music of Night Owl might therefore be surprisingly clangorous in places. The piano opens with an ascending series of chords, an idea which it develops obsessively over the course of the piece, as though it’s keeping night watch and struggling to stay alert and responsive.
In movement 3, I am thinking of two usages of Quench: to quench thirst, and to quench fire. When used figuratively about oneself, these senses can be used to refer to “alleviation” and “repression,” respectively. This movement is about seeking fulfillment in an otherwise stifling environment, and pulls personally from finding solace in music and mathematics during a bout of depression stemming from bullying in adolescence. I’ve used a few “found object” sounds, most of which I associate with that time of my life, or other times of relief from depression; a melody that recurs at the end of each section is one I woke up from a dream humming one morning during a particularly difficult time.
My twin daughters were born prematurely after a dangerous pregnancy, but they pulled through marvelously. My wife and I sometimes call them our “Cuddlies.” A year after they were born I came upon a passage very early in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which describes a time of great chaos and confusion, and in the midst of that comes the line, “What chance cuddleys…” as if to ask, “what chance would cuddleys have surrounded by all this danger?” I now spell our girls’ collective name as “Cuddleys,” in order to say “just look at what they did with their chance!” This movement quotes heavily from Chopin’s Berceuse in Db major (transposed to G major here), a piece we listened to with them quite often. It depicts some of the confusion that babies must feel when confronted with thousands of new stimuli; this movement ends with the babies falling asleep long before the end of Berceuse.
Goofball has the impulsive character of a child who is showing off after staying up past bedtime, moving from thing to thing and never settling down. The opening motive in the piano’s lowest register permeates the entire virtuosic movement. The first section ends with a brief pause after a quote from Thelonious Monk’s composition Four In One, which involves a subtle transformation of the opening motive. One by one the percussionists move to instruments played with hands as though looking for any surface to drum on to get their energy out, playing snippets of rhythms from video-game music I remember from childhood. Meanwhile the pianist plays two passages of erratically accented runs and rhythms. The first of these passages, accompanied by xylophone, quotes the popular 1920s song A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich, and You in the accented pitches. This song was used ubiquitously in Looney Tunes cartoons, and like the Monk tune it prominently features a transformation of the opening motive. After a section of rhythmic unison, there is a short reprise of the opening music, which becomes increasingly repetitive and raucous before tiring out completely. – Matt Barber

Six Movements for Piano and Percussion, subtitled “Death Is an Adviser,” is scores for solo piano and nine percussionists. This work is a continuation of two of my compositional interests: it is the eighth work in a series of pieces for solo instrument with percussion, and the third in a series of works modeled after the shamanistic philosophies described by anthropologist Carlos Castaneda in his writings about being an apprentice to the sorcerer Don Juan Matus in the 1960s. I have been heavily influenced by the teachings of Don Juan, specifically those found in the book Journey to Ixtlan. “Death Is an Advisor” is a chapter from the book that deals with the awareness of death and how such awareness advises our decision-making in life. The movement titles each have double meanings, which reflect both the philosophy that inspired the piece and the compositional process. I am interested in finding ways for my creative work as a composer and other life activities to intersect and become the same. For this piece, in an effort to work and spend time with my family at once, my daughters and wife drew numbers from a hat to determine pitch orderings, durations, and contour. After selecting numbers for pitch and duration, and combining them, we’d run to the piano to play it and hear how it turned out – we made a game out of it. While I believe the relationship between the movement titles and the philosophy of “Death Is an Advisor” is obvious, here is a summary of how they relate to the compositional process.
I. any time. any place. – This movement uses a series of pitches and durations with a randomly selected ordering. The events in this movement could occur at any time, depending on the duration selected, and any place (in pitch space), depending on the pitch class selected. Although the score is fixed, the compositional process was dependent on an open process that could have yielded any number of pitch/duration combinations.
II. maybe today. maybe tomorrow. – This movement works in cycles that I conceived of as days passing. The movements alternates between fast knocking sounds from the piano and improvisatory musical developments. Either of these alternating segments could be interpreted as day or night, dreaming or living. The pitches are derived from a cycle of hexachords from a serial matrix and a corresponding magic square matrix.
III. touched. not felt. – This movement includes the depression of piano keys in such a way that the hammers don’t touch the strings. In these moments the pianist touches the keys but the felt does not touch the strings. Instead, a clave is used to excite the touched strings. While composing this work, I was thinking about Don Juan’s description of death always lurking to your left. IV. a worthy opponent. – This movement title is actually a different chapter title from Journey to Ixtlan. In essence, the philosophy of “A Worthy Opponent” deals with conquering your own obstacles and competing with yourself. The pitches and rhythms in this work abstractly exist in two related pitch networks that work together in an effort to find harmony and balance. They fail to do so.
V. now or later. – This movement explores a fleeting harmonic and timbral language, through the use of a constantly transforming harmonic sequence and bending of pitches. The sequence is designed to obscure any sense of tonal cadence. The resting point could come at any moment or it could come later. The pitch bending, which is another unsettling component of the movement, is explored through a triangle being used to bend pitches in the piano, and extended bending techniques in the vibraphone, marimba, timpani, and a porcelain bowl.
VI. dream come true. – This final movement is ritualistic, conceived of as a funeral, and includes segments of the previous five movements. In addition to these segments, this work presents a large-scale pitch design that governs the entire piece. This is most clearly demonstrated in a unison section where everyone performs homorhythmic music and, like a memory, experiences the previous movements in brief recapitulated passages. “In a world where death is the hunter, my friend, there is no time for regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions.”- Baljinder Sekhon