The drum’s role | AspenTimes.com

The drum’s role

Stewart Oksenhorn

If you’re going to throw a Latin American music festival – even a minifest – you’ve got to invite the drummers.”Having traveled in South America, music is everywhere in their culture,” said Jonathan Haas, director of the Aspen Music Festival’s Aspen Percussion Ensemble. “The fruit vendor is going to play the bata, the Cuban drumming. The taxi driver will take you to see any style of South American music you want. It’s the real galvanizing force that keeps people together. Music, and specifically drumming, because everybody does it from the time they can hold a spoon.”The Percussion Ensemble’s annual showcase concert has thus been comfortably folded into the Postcards From Latin America minifest. The concert Tuesday, Aug. 2, at Harris Hall, isn’t limited to South American music. But it does have a heavy South of the Border accent.A centerpiece is a song suite, “Cantata para América mágica,” by Argentinean composer Ginastera. The work is rarely performed due to its personnel demands: 18 musicians, virtually all percussionists. And the soprano part, to be sung by Lucia Cesaroni, is scary, says Haas – scary in its range, rhythmic intensity and even emotional quality. Ginastera’s typically programmatic work gives the Aztec legend of the birth of the world – as well as its death. “He wrote it as a memorial, in remembrance of the Aztec culture,” said Haas.Roldán’s “Rítmica No. 5” is one of the first pieces to make its way into the percussion ensemble repertoire, when the idea of a percussion ensemble was in its infancy, in the 1950s. An even earlier work on the program is by Mexican composer Chávez, Xochipilli for Winds and Percussion.The theatrics behind Texas-born Lalo Davila’s “Rockin’ Rickie Rocket” is even better than the title. The 2005 piece, which Haas came across on the Internet, spotlights the little-studied art of air-drumming. An ensemble member sits in front of a drum set, but doesn’t strike the instruments. While he plays air drums, the percussive-sounding music is made vocally by the ensemble. “What the audience hears is one of the biggest drum sets imaginable,” said Haas.Rounding out the program are several North of the Border works. A scene from Donald Knaack’s opera “Odin” is a trial run for a fully staged event Haas has planned for April in New York City. Knaack, a seminal drummer in the 1960s avant-garde, is known for building percussion sculptures out of junk. Frank Zappa’s “Idiot Bastard Son” was written as a direct slam at former president George H.W. Bush and his congressmen father. Haas, who often programs Zappa tunes, says the selection was not about politics; “It’s one of the most beautiful melodies Frank ever wrote.”Also to be performed are Steve Reich’s “Dance Patterns,” and Jolivet’s Suite en concert, with flutist Nadine Asin.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com