Thursday, February 26, 2015

Talujon Percussion: A Rustle and a Bang along 25 years

Lots of contemporary music ensembles have a specialty.  From some ensembles, you can expect a keen ear for the eclectic "Fourth Stream" of downtown minimalism; from others, an expertise in the complex inner workings of American serialism; while others still can summon the most otherworldly sounds from their instruments in service of the more abstract works of the European avant garde.

Surveying the repertoire of Talujon Percussion Ensemble, one finds a perplexing diversity.  The ensemble—described by the New York Times as possessing an edgy, unflagging energy while performing frenzied explosions of percussion madness—is one we're excited to count among the internationally renowned artists in residence at this year's June in Buffalo.  Rather than a single stylistic specialty, Talujon seems to specialize in a stunning sensitivity to a wide span of compositional languages.  If you need an ensemble that can expertly execute staples like Clapping Music or First Construction, or players that can breathe new life into standards like Having Never Written a Note for Percussion or Credo in US, you'd be hard-pressed to find a stronger and more willing group—indeed, Talujon has skillfully performed all of these.  If you need an ensemble that can can blaze through modern classics like Xenakis's Pléiades or Steve Reich's Drumming with effortless fluency, Talujon can more than accommodate—in fact, the latter has become one of the group's signature pieces (listen below).  But perhaps the most exciting aspect of the group is the scope of their rep:  while many percussion ensembles try their hands at American favorites like Reich and Cage, how many also dive into the labyrinthine textures of French works like Manoury's Les Livres des Claviers or Grisey's monumental Le Noire do l'Etoile?  How many can match the visceral intellect of Xenakis with the delicate simplicity of Scelsi and Takemitsu—and perform each with equal relish and precision?  How many percussion ensembles commission works from both post-minimal pioneers like Julia Wolfe and sonic experimenters like Alvin Lucier?

One of the most affecting concerts I can remember was during the ensemble's 2010 residency at the Center.  After opening with a flawless execution of Drumming and stunning with the dynamic, full-spectrum energy of Wolfe's drumset quartet Dark Full Ride, Talujon turned to Sciarrino's Un fruscio lungo trent’anni, a piece whose instrumentation consists of shaken pine branches, stirred water, and scraped glass bottles, performed surrounding the audience.  Rich in silences and glorious near-silences, the piece displayed the breadth of Talujon's sonic sensitivity.  In retrospect, I can think of no better piece to follow Wolfe's intense percussive excursion.

This is the enigma of Talujon:  their specialty lies not in knowing the ins and outs of a single subset of the new music scene, but in seeking out exciting works from every corner of the globe, working with adventurous composers who are constantly finding new ways to expand the ensemble's sonic palette, and having a skillful command of their instruments (which of course, for percussionists, is practically any sound-producing body).

PI faculty member
 Tom Kolor
This skillful command is part of what makes it so exciting that Talujon will be a part of the second June in Buffalo Performance Institute (and that UB's Tom Kolor, a Talujon member, will be on the PI faculty).  Emerging performers of contemporary music can look forward to master classes and workshops with the ensemble, at which Talujon's insight and musical acumen is sure to help guide them toward a mastery of the many lexica of contemporary music.  Like Meridian Arts Ensemble (with whom Talujon will be performing a concert at JiB) Talujon is an ensemble of composers, and the group has premiered many works written by individual members or composed collectively as a group.  Well-attuned to the problems and pleasures of writing for percussion, they will certainly be able to assist emerging composers in getting their ideas across effectively.

2015 is an anniversary year for June in Buffalo, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the festival and the 30th anniversary of David Felder's tenure as artistic director.  It is also an anniversary year for Talujon:  formed in 1990, the ensemble is celebrating its 25th year.  Showing no sign of stopping, Talujon will surely continue to expand the contemporary percussion repertoire, taking the field in new directions for years to come—starting with the works they'll premiere at this year's festival.  I think back to Sciarrino's Un fruscio lungo trent’anni, whose title translates to "a rustle along thirty years":  congratulations to Talujon, as they celebrate many rustles, bangs, and complex phasing polyrhythms along their twenty-five years.

—Ethan Hayden