Compositions of Nebojsa J. Zivkovic at The New Music Day at PASIC in Orlando

There are very few artists today who are equally engaged as composers and performers and are successful in both fields as composer and percussionist Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic. This consequent duality of his artistic work exists for over fifteen years and has resulted in more than thirty pieces composed for percussion published in Europe and US. Most of these compositions now form a part of the standard repertoire of many percussionists worldwide.

Although Zivkovic has composed mainly works for percussion, in his opus there are pieces written for classical chamber ensembles, piano, orchestral and vocal & instrumental pieces. In addition, his works include two marimba concertos and a cello concerto. Some of his works for percussion may be played by percussion beginners, and some by highly educated and skillful performers whose skills and dexterity are indispensable for solo recitals. That’s exactly why the works by Zivkovic are often written in variety of styles.

This special kind of polistylistic manner of the creative work of Zivkovic is a result of the postmodern approach to the music without code of conduct. In his work you can hear the influences of various stiles including romanticism, impressionism, expressionism and the extreme avant-garde of mid-twentieth century music, not to mention Zivkovic’s special affinity to the folk music of his own Balkan heritage that occupies him the most.

According to the composer himself, HONESTY is one of the most important priorities during all his creative work. That could be the reason why his compositions always sound so familiar, so close to everyone´s ear (and soul) unceasingly emotionally charged whether written in cantabile tonality or “rough” atonality. Even the titles of Zivkovic’s pieces in different languages (e.g. Ballade für Petra, Srpska igra /Serbian Dance/, To the Gods of Rhythm, Les violons morts, Walzer für Herbert, Nada mnom je nebo zatvoreno / The Heaven is Closed Above Me/ , Trio per Uno) are vivid pictures of
the above mentioned honesty that colors Zivkovic’s reality – the poetry he reads, the people he meets, the sounds that surround him…

For his appearance at PASIC in ORLANDO, the composer has selected four of his works: two marimba solos, one multi percussion solo and one percussion trio, with the intention of showing variety of his music language.

The pieces Tensio (comp. 1986) and Ilijas (Iliyash) (comp. 1996) are the best examples of stylistic transformations in Zivkovic’s music. In Tensio the composer uses the ultra-avant-garde sound of pure atonality. The extensive use of “one-hand-rolls” is brought to the topmost point which sometimes makes the listener feel like if there were two marimbas playing instead of one. The presence of, “interval composing technique” as termed by the composer himself in certain places has common points with strictly determined twelve-tone technique. But in Tensio this technique is combined with freely composed expressive music content.

Ilijas (Iliyash) has a totally opposite sound. The rhapsodic composition titled after a small town in the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia has, in one hand, clear associations from folk tunes of that Balkan area, to the mixed rhythms and tonal scales whose roots could be found even further East. On the other hand, in the introduction of the piece the composer calls for a very unusual marimba technique which produces sounds that remind us of a “Franz Liszt grand piano sound.” The middle part, however, uses typical grooved marimbistic patterns, although masterly composed in a number of various odd meters.

Trio per Uno (comp. 1995) originally composed as a one movement work, requiring two tom-toms and one snare drum for each of the three performers, is a piece that expresses the principle: “three bodies – one soul”. This composition tends to show a special kind of perfection of wildness in an archaic ritual cult. Trio per Uno is a music and scenic competition of the performing skills where voices and hands are in an irresistible play of sounds where the rhythm has the main role.
After hearing (and watching!) an excellent performance of the piece by the trio “PENUMBRA” (Minneapolis) the composer decided to extend this piece to a three movement work. He added one “drumming” opening and the contemplative middle movement with the Trio playing on one marimba. This version of the piece will have its world premiere in Orlando.

The Castle of The Mad King (1998) was planned to have its premiere in October in cultural capital of Europe in 1998, Stockholm, on two different concerts by Evelyn Glennie and Nebojsa Zivkovic, each of them should perform one part of this huge piece. The composition presents a sound-happening played on the relatively large setup using also some unusual instruments like Japanese Uchiwa-Daikos and Earth-plates. This Zivkovic piece does not require the use of any mallet instrument like his earlier multi percussion compositions. The only tuned instrument in this relatively long piece is one low octave of crotales. The idea of the piece is balancing between controlled music content and its improvisation accomplished in the shifts of energetic and aggressive, lyric and meditative parts.
This piece with a somewhat imaginative title is in fact a picture of the author’s sound castle where, behind the walls, the listener (as in every castle) discovers the chamber of rage, the chamber of torture, the chamber of joy, the chamber of longing, the chamber of laughter and those in which it is almost forbidden to enter.

By: Ira Prodanov, musicologist, works at the Musicology Department of The Academy of Art, University of Novi Sad, Serbia. She lectures in History of Twentieth Century Music which is her main field of research.