Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra, No. 2, op. 25

LISTEN     (the beginning of the 3. movement)

"...But rhythm - that is when deep inside the dormant,
archaic impulse of the soul frees itself and flows, unrestricted,
to the surface like an effervescing fountain.
It is at this fountain that the thirst for the pulsation
of harmony can be quenched..."
N. J. Zivkovic

By Dr. Ira Prodanov

When one mentions a concert for a solo instrument and orchestra, one usually thinks of a three-movement form with two mutually opposed sound sources that become "reconciled" in the closing bars of the work. A solo cadenza is almost assumed. However, the Concerto No.2 for marimba and orchestra1 by Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic2 we refer to is, in many ways, an exception compared to standard compositions of this kind. First of all, the instrument counterposed to the orchestra is the marimba3, an old African percussive source of sound, hardly imaginable in the setting of a symphony ensemble. Another exception is the fact that the author again decided upon this musical form, which we consider classical, and with good reason.

"...I intended to span the broadest possible spectre of elements not only in relation to the construction of the work, but in relation to the construction of the instruments. I wanted to unite the quintessence of Nature and archaic elements (rhythm as the primal origin of every music, as something that gives birth to music), theatrical qualities and a new articulation of tonality with the 'classical' tonal language of this century and produce some kind of - New Music. Only such a unity can represent the free expansion (quasi trans-avantgardism) of present day music...", I paraphrase the words of Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic, whose Second Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra represents the musical elucidation of its composer's credo.

Zivkovic's three-movement Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra a due, with reinforced percussion section and the harp, resembles the traditional formal solution of a sonata cycle of this kind - only in the number of its movements. Nevertheless, the formal patterns of the movements do not correspond to the traditional distribution: sonata-form, a complex three-part song- rondo. They look more like a series of three musical entities where, owing to the programmatic idea of the work, the sounds of the instruments of totally different cultures first "rival" one another, then unite. The expected soloist cadenza from the first movement, therefore, re-emerges in the last. Nevertheless, even if the author did not follow the classical musical forms in conceiving the concert, the character of this three musical wholes is traditional: the first is the exposition (but not in sonata form), the second movement is slow while the third, not the simple "dance in the circle" of the rondo, but rather a scherzo with an expressionistic, pagan intonation.

As the author himself says, this concerto is a kind of ritual where an individual is accepted into a community after a certain ritual of "initiation". Symbolically, it is the marimba, an instrument entirely foreign to the classical orchestral ensemble, that is "accepted" into the group. Essentially, involves the problem of conflict between the traditional and the new, where, paradoxically, the new is older than the old. Such a bond in fact represents a unity of folklore music ( taken in the broader sense) with art music, and its final results offers a certain type of ethnic style in the music written at the end of this century.

The programmatically conceived first movement - Introduzione, Iniziazione del Legno (Initiation of the Wood) - introduces the participants with the "dim", "indefinite", "foreboding" repetition of "arche-motifs" in the introductory part of the instrument that has the task of "proving" itself and the orchestra that "appraises" it. It is a free three-part form (slow-fast-slow) with a continuos dialogue between the soloist and the tutti based on an analogous musical material derived from the initial musical nucleus assigned to the marimba. The Phrygian mode in D is the modal foundation of this movement, although the modal center is changed in its central part. The musical subject-matter of the first movement, after its introductory section, comprises a ritual dance governed by the art of the mixed-rhythm, where the marimba represents both: a percussion and the melodic instrument that carries the main theme of the ritual, later treated in variations, i.e. deconstructed, in other groups of instruments. The new theme in the orchestra, simultaneous with the main theme, is only a "background" for the marimba's solo performance. This support of the soloist theme is the symbolic sign of "acceptance" by the community, and the solemnity of that moment is reinforced by an expansion of the percussive body with Chinese gongs and Christian liturgy glockenspiel. The absence of the main soloist cadenza from this movement is entirely justified. In a classical concerto, it represents the solo instrument as the main sound source that dominates the whole orchestral body but that could not happen here, at least not in the first movement. Because it has just been accepted, only after being "interwoven" in the second movement, the marimba is "permitted" to distinguish itself in the community towards the end of the third movement. However, even in the first two movement, this work has soloist entries of the marimba, and its virtuoso tonal possibilities are in the forefront. One could say that this is a characteristic feature of the author, the feature justified by the concerto form of the work (as stated in its title).

Exhaustion by dancing penetrates the "night" of the second movement, subtitled Notturno. This "little night music" is more of an accompanying pause, a tremolo vibration of the whole sound source, than the serene evening rest. Soloist entries of orchestral instruments are emphasized (violoncello, bass-clarinet, flute, oboe, horn, trumpet) like commentaries of the performance of those introduced in the "initiation" movement. Marimba plays the basic melody in octaves, while the melodic component of orchestral representatives, as the author states, is brought to the forefront.

This musical theme is based on the harmony of fourths of the basic tone E, and its central part echoes the classical modulation in a dominant tonality. By the principle of variational arrangement, the descending series, first in the flutes, creates a developing form with the pause in the center bearing the dynamic mark piano pianissimo. At this point, there is a "twinkling" of "thin" flageolet tones of strings. A return to the previous musical material before the final calming of this nocturnal music is marked by yet another agitated section whose broken motion in triplets nervously pushes up to the high wood-winds. Somewhat eclectic, this movement closes with aleatoric sound effects, echoing the method of the Polish school.

Attacca, the longest and most energetic misterioso ma concitato third movement of the concerto begins with the low E on which the second movement ends. "Very excited, feverish", the author emphasizes as the character of this movement. After a slow introduction - whose crescendo sounds like a scream, due to the perfectly applied aleatoric effects of indefinite pitch in the strings - a frees form (but not the character!) of rondo is exposed, soloist and the orchestra "compete" in technical mastery of polymetry and polyrhythm, with intermittent rhythms of modern rock-music.4 The marimba, the one already "accepted" into the community has the most difficult virtuoso part in comparison to the previous musical themes. Here, the soloist is a virtuoso in the proper sense of the word, specifically proven by the cadenza at the and of the movement, where the percussionist, echoing the tradition of early classical concerts, is permitted to improvise his performance.5 The harmonic resolution of the end of this movement which began on the sound of tone E is also classical: there is a skip from tone D to the leading tone F sharp, then to the Phrygian second degree and finally to the tonic of G. his movement is a tour-de-force of the whole work where both the soloist and orchestra musicians have equally difficult tasks to perform.

Although the focus of attention in this concert is on the soloist, one should stress that the orchestral body is significantly sustained thanks to the programmatic idea of the work. This is evident not only in the soloist entries of individual instruments or groups of instruments, but also in the technical skill the author requires from them, particularly when the strings are engaged as a foundation of the orchestra, all section from violin to the double bass, with all possible manners of playing, and an abundance of divisis and flageolet tones.

The pagan expressionism of the Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra No. 2, op. 25, by Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic, places in the foreground an unusual solo instrument, and therefore the rhythm here is the basic driving element. It is then not surprising that the score shows occasional echoes of Stravinsky and Bartók, whose works gave rhythm the significance of melody. In that sense the orchestration of this piece periodically treats other instruments also as percussion instruments.

The music of Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic, although stylistically directed toward expressionism, occasionally has aleatoric provisions of indefinite pitch that echo, when realized, the Polish school composers from the 1960's (as we have already mentioned). At the same time, the composer desires to write "music of sonorous colors" entirely in agreement with the nature of the sound of the marimba, whose "eastern" intonation (owing certainly to the whole-tone departures, as well) confirms the idea that this work represents an amalgamation of folklore and art music of a certain post-ethnic style in contemporary music.

This whole cycle could be presented as a three-part ritual between the soloist and the orchestra: test-alliance-contest. The final result of the last item is not possible to define - the game of competing is unsolved, however not to the regret of the participants but to their satisfaction. The game is important (where the both "partners" are equal) of these two sound media, which can be combined regardless of their origin and the accompanying tradition. The Second Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra opens up possibilities for new investigations into the specific aspect of communication between the exotic (folklore) and the classical in twentieth century music.

(Translated by Ksenija Todorovic)

1 The premier performing of this work was on April 9, 1997, in Munich, Germany, at the famous Herkulessaal, with the Munich Symphony Orchestra, Jeanpierre Faber conducted. The soloist was the author himself.
2 Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic (1962) is certainly one of the most interesting concert percussionists worldwide, equally engaged in the standard repertoire and new works written primarily for marimba. He graduated in composition, musical theory and percussion instruments at the Heidelberg-Mannheim Hochschule für Musik, and attended postgraduate studies at Stuttgart Hochschule für Musik. Since 1984, he has had regular concert tours in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and repeteadely to the U.S.A. Apart from the works for the marimba and other percussion instruments, his opus comprises works of orchestral and chamber music. The following could be quoted as significant: Corale for thirteen wind and percussion instruments, In Errinerungen schwebend for three flutes and vibraphone, Der Himmel ist über mir geschlossen for string orchestra, female choir and bass solo, Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra No. 1, Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra, etc. He has made several compact discs with his works as well as works of other authors. For more information on Nebojsa Zivkovic, visit his official web site.
3 The marimba belongs to a group of percussion instruments with definite pitch with a range of five octaves. It is made of a series of wooden plates, usually palisander, with metal pipes-resonators underneath them. It comes from Africa, but has been profusely used in Latin-American folklore. Since recently it has become very popular in art music, particularly in percussion ensembles.
4 At the and of this century elements of different kinds of music are so intermingled that sometimes it is almost impossible to name something properly that sounds so familiar, so "close to our hearing".
5 The score of this concert, received from the author himself, has no cadenza, although some later commentaries by the composer indicated his desire to write it down properly.

 

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