review by Janet I. Martineau
Goodness, did The Saginaw News ever get ripped into Saturday night at Saginaw Valley State University.
First it was read...and then shred.
Literally, thanks to the Percussion Group Cincinnati’s hilarious performance of “I Read the News Today, Oh Boy.”
In what has to rank as one of the more unusual performances in the history of the Rhea Miller Recital Series, the percussion trio (Allen Otte, James Culley and Russell Burge, faculty members and ensemble-in-residence at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music) expanded the definition of what qualifies as percussion.
In their case, on three of the numbers it included their own voices -- in the newspaper number, reading rhythmic snippets from the sports, entertainment and hard news sections as they held the sections in front of them and then, well, ripping the paper apart to make percussive noises and in general littering the stage.
Earlier in the piece, one of the three also made like a bird with flapping wings using wadded up newspaper sections.
Yep, it was a weird two hours.
Some pieces were fabulous -- like the delicate and quiet “Mbira Music, Book I,” using the tiny African thumb piano instrument amplified by placing it over drum heads; the lovely sound created by melding piano, marimba and vibraphone on “Balinese Ceremonial Music” (in particular the deep sounds of the piano on the Gambangan movement), and the four “Chilean Songs” with the trio playing on one marimba.
Opening the program was the athletic “Lift Off,” totally on drums and with the sticks moving so fast at several points they created a blurr. It was loud and wonderful and attention-grabbing, and served as a great contrast to the more delicate mbira piece that followed.
And then there was the weird stuff -- not, maybe, totally pleasing to the ears but amusingly creative, like the two John Cage pieces.
“Some of Living Room Music” used a cigarette lighter, beer cans, playing cards and telephone books as well as wordless voices to create its rhythms and “Imaginary Landscape No. 2” was a hodge-podge of tin cans, conch shell, dowl rod, trash can, door bell buzzer, water gong, ratchet, slinky and bass drum (LOVED the conch shell sound).
On the definite negative, at least for this listener, was “From Drama,” using Chinese cymbals in an overly long, repetitious number that failed to impress or entertain.