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In the wings | with John Fleming

Bringing you the new and notable in Tampa Bay's arts scene

In the wings | with John Fleming

Bringing you the new and notable in Tampa Bay's arts scene

Florida Orchestra's percussionist offers drum solo like no other

John Shaw is a consummate noise maker. He is principal percussionist of the Florida Orchestra and is featured as the soloist in this weekend's masterworks concerts. Shaw and the orchestra under music director Stefan Sanderling will be playing a modern work by Scottish composer James MacMillan, Veni, Veni Emmanuel, which is based on the Advent hymn. Here's what Shaw had to say about it in a phone interview.

I've been listening to the Evelyn Glennie recording of Veni, Veni Emmanuel, and it sounds like a challenging piece.

Oh, yeah, the orchestra has been complaining to me: "Hey, your piece is hard!'' It's definitely one of those where you have to rely on the conductor for a lot of things to be together.

How much percussion is called for?

I will be playing a vibraphone, two tam-tams, bass chimes, a five-octave marimba and a mark tree. Then there's a huge drum-type setup with bongos, congas, timbales, tom-toms, a pedal bass drum, several suspended cymbals, wood blocks and cowbells, six Thai nipple gongs, temple blocks and a log drum. So it's a lot of stuff.

I guess. There's a couple in there I haven't heard of. Thai nipple gongs?

They're pitched gongs, tuned to certain notes. The middle portion of the gong is raised and it looks like a nipple.

Actually, the score calls for Javanese gongs, but these are pretty close to that. They're played in conjunction with temple blocks, which have sort of a Southeast Asian sound. When I play them together, they have a really cool sound.

And what's a mark tree?

A lot of people will call them wind chimes. It's the row of little graduated metal rods that you use to play glissandos.

How much space does all this take up?

The whole front of the stage is me, basically.

What's the hardest part for you?

Technically, the marimba part is difficult. You have to develop some four-mallet virtuosity —you know, two mallets in each hand. There are several times that I span the length of the instrument in about a second and a half, a real quick run.

I love the way MacMillan works in the Advent hymn.

The middle chorale section is the part with the marimba and where the melody starts to be introduced. You hear snippets of O Come, O Come Emmanuel in the winds, strings and brass. The more I've studied it, the more well thought out I realize the piece is. It's a genius use of the hymn.

Modern masters

A century ago this week two of the world's great composers were born, but you wouldn't know it from Tampa Bay area musical programs. Olivier Messaien, born 100 years ago Wednesday in Avignon, France, died in 1992. Elliott Carter, a New Yorker, turns 100 on Thursday and is still going strong, with an outpouring of recordings and performances this year. In particular, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and its music director, James Levine, have championed Carter this year. Messiaen has also been well-represented in concerts around the country. You will sometimes hear Messiaen in these parts — the Florida Orchestra played his L'Ascension last January — but Carter rarely, if ever, gets heard. His music has a daunting reputation for difficulty, but if the audience never experiences any of it, how will it ever know if it likes it or not?

Holiday winds

There surely won't be any Carter on the Fanfare Concert Winds program, but hey, he didn't compose a lot of holiday music. There will be selections from The Polar Express, The Nightmare Before Christmas (inset) and seasonal favorites. The concert is at 7:30 tonight at the Performing Arts Building of Hillsborough Community College in Ybor City. $5.

A little squirrelly, to be sure

Gavin Hawk is starring in a one-man show, Circumference of a Squirrel, through Sunday at the Studio@620 in St. Petersburg. Hawk, who teaches theater at Eckerd College, plays a geeky academic in John Walch's play, which turns a boy's childhood trauma over his father's vicious phobia about squirrels into a metaphor for the Holocaust. It also includes more squirrel science and lore than you ever dreamed you might one day happen to pick up in a play. Performed without intermission as a sort of lecture, it's intense, tortured, deeply personal theater. $20.

John Fleming can be reached at or (727) 893-8716.

Florida Orchestra's percussionist offers drum solo like no other 12/08/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 8:47pm]
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