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Concerts of music for non-traditional ensembles (by which I mean those lying outside the canonic groups such as piano trio, string quartet, wind quintet) bring an opportunity to hear compositions by non-canonical composers. The UNC Percussion Ensemble, 13 musicians strong and directed by Lynn Glassock, presented six works in a 45-minute concert in Hill Hall, three pieces written for percussion, and three arrangements, with only one "classical" name (Dvorák) among the bunch.
First up was a recent piece by David J. Long of the University of Mary Washington (Fredericksburg VA), Synopsis: Sinfonia for Percussion (1992) (see the score here), of which the group performed the first and third movements. Here, as elsewhere on the program, the focus was on pitched percussion instruments (marimbas, vibraphones, tubular bells), rather than unpitched instruments. The work was attractive (although to my ears the marimba sostenuto — rolls on each pitch — with which it began is reminiscent of a mandolin orchestra). Ensemble was tight and the rhythms incisive. Verging on easy listening was the Dvorák arrangement, slow and dreamy, which followed ("Song to the Moon," arranged by Nathan Daughtrey).
Small ensembles were featured in the jazzy and difficult " Bicyclops" (arranged from a piece by Béla Fleck), with excellent mallet work from Hannah Hays, Christine Lin, and Mark Woodell. Hannah Hays switched to flute (accompanied by Ms. Lin on vibes) for the middle slow movement from Three Days in May by Glassock. Hays played with poise, but her piano tones, though soft, were lacking in energy and support, so that they tended to the low side of the pitch.
The whole ensemble returned for the familiar "Blue Rondo a la Turk" (a hit from Dave Brubeck, arranged by Steve Yeager), and the program closed with "Rockin' Rickie Rocket" by Lalo Davila. I had been dreading this since I saw the title, but it turned out to be sparkling and enjoyable — the entire ensemble reproducing vocally the sounds of one drummer at a drum set (mimed to perfection by Ashley Barfield in cape and purple wig).
Audience members certainly went out with smiles on their faces.