percussion studies

percussion studies: performances from Nathan’s time at the University of Kentucky with James B. Campbell, 2012-2017










Percussion is exciting because of its constant motion. Through a proxy of skins, woods, and metals, kinetic motion is translated into pure sound. In a similar fashion, percussion has over the last half-century found itself at the heart of contemporary music, a new medium through which modern composers can express their ideas. The percussion repertoire is in constant flux, with new pieces being written every day. Unlike music for older, more classical instruments, new music for percussion can become a standard in the repertoire within five or ten years (a great example of this is Alejandro Viñao’s Khan Variations). Working with commissioners such as William Moersh and Robert Van Sice, a whole host of talented composers have found a home in the pubescent world of percussion.

One of the foremost composers of this group is Peter Klatzow (b. 1945), a decorated South African composer well-known for his choral works. He has written many chamber works involving percussion and has written several works for solo marimba as well. In particular, Dances of Earth and Fire (1987) has been thoroughly performed throughout the United States. His newest published composition, Six Concert Etudes for Marimba (2010), is his first significant composition for solo marimba since Dances, and is truly exceptional in its breadth and depth. Six Concert Etudes gives the performer no corner, challenging their technique, endurance, focus, and musical maturity throughout, and will without a doubt soon become part of the standard repertoire for the marimba.

In the tradition of etude composition, each of these six pieces has a particular challenge. Their titles and corresponding challenges are as follows:

  1. “Juggler”: large, broken octave jumps with two mallets
  2. “Play of Triads”: rapid minute interval changes, constant chords
  3. “Melodic Mirage”: fiorituras; mimicking the human voice
  4. “Incantation”: double-octaves, odd-patterned polyrhythms
  5. “Dazzle”: various versions of 5/4; complex harmonies
  6. “Whisper of Cypresses, Play of Water”: melody in rt. hand, metered tremolo in left

However, these pieces are more than simple technical exercises. As Klatzow pressed to Daniel Heagney, the leader of the commissioning group, “In the first instance these should be concert studies rather than just technical exercises. I am sure lots of composers/marimbists have provided you with those.”

The most impressive aspect of Klatzow’s Six Etudes is their emotional depth, which should amplify their reach over the next decade. For the highly advanced performer, the work provides many, many challenges and fills holes technically which were not previously covered in the percussion repertoire. Importantly, however, it is most pleasing for the audience, who have the pleasure to witness the truly unique and epic confrontation between the performer and their music.






related material:

  • recital two program outside0001 e1462607660844 - percussion studies

A review of Britten’s War Requiem by Rich Copley, Lexington Herald-Leader: “The fourth movement, Sanctus, was particularly stunning in its interplay between the soprano and the percussion, UK’s nationally revered percussionists shining all night.”

1st Place, 2014 Percussive Arts Society International Collegiate Percussion Ensemble Competition

Super Bowl Halftime Show, 2011

(additional video can be found on youtube and vimeo)