National Musical Arts began its 20th-anniversary season with a bang Sunday at the National Academy of Sciences. Actually, the program, titled "Make Some Noise" and featuring percussion instruments, included many textures. The big bang was most prominent in Christopher Rouse's pulse-pounding "Ogoun Badagris," the last piece on the program, named for a voodoo deity and inspired by voodoo ritual. The instrumentation was mostly for drums, but the sounds of wood, metal and shaken gourds were also used, as well as a unison shout (the equivalent of our "Amen!") at the end.
Elsewhere, the program might have been titled "Whispering Percussion" and used as a demonstration that percussion instruments can be subtle. Or it could have been called "Music of Many Colors" and considered an exploration of the varied textures percussion can contribute to orchestral sound. Besides Rouse's evocation of Haiti, the music took the much-too-small audience to Japan with Toru Takemitsu's radiant "Rain Tree," and to the United States with David Baker's "Singers of Songs," a tribute to African American musicians Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Jimmy Yancey, Paul Robeson, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie.
In Michael Colgrass's eclectic and superbly crafted Varied Trio for Violin, Piano and Percussion, the music visited Indonesia, India and other locales--including, for contrast, 18th-century France. Despite its forbidding title, Gary Powell Nash's "Deformations III" was remarkably easy listening. So was the whole program, with its exotic flavors and its emphasis on percussion--including a piano not only played at the keyboard but also plucked and struck with mallets. National Musical Arts programs usually play to standing-room-only audiences, but for this concert the auditorium was less than half full. Those who were scared off by percussion anxiety missed a stimulating and enjoyable experience.
Six percussionists performed: Ron Barnett (who also conducted some pieces), Doug Day, Paul Edgar, Michael Gatti, Tom Jones and Joseph McIntyre. Also contributing notably were pianist Patricia Gray, violinist Janice Martin and cellist Lori Barnet.