Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

February 4, 2014

Double timpani work leads Valdosta Symphony concert

VALDOSTA — To discuss the upcoming Valdosta Symphony Orchestra concert featuring composer James Oliverio’s “Dynasty Double Timpani Concerto,” one may first want to know that the percussion instrument can be correctly spelled either as “timpani” or “tympani.”

A person who plays the timpani is a timpanist.

Timpani is the only percussion instrument that must be tuned.

Timpani have a tonal interaction with other instruments that differs from other percussions.

Good things to know but not necessary to enjoy the rare treat of seeing and hearing two timpanists perform one of only two pieces ever composed for double timpani.

Valdosta Symphony’s “Voyage of the Imagination” concert this weekend features VSO principal timpanist David Morris with guest artist Atlanta Symphony principal timpanist Mark Yancich.

“There are only two double timpani concerti in existence,” Morris says. “Another one was written 10 years ago by the American composer Philip Glass. Mark and I played that concerto with Macon Symphony and the Albany Symphony. Jim Oliverio, the composer of the Dynasty double concerto that we are playing here, wrote an encore for us for the Glass. That encore actually became the third movement of the Dynasty Concerto.”

Not only is a double timpani composition rare, so is the performance of these pieces.

Morris, Yancich, and Yancich’s brother, Paul, are the only timpanists in the world to have performed both the Glass and the Oliverio compositions. The Oliverio piece was

composed specifically for the Yancich brothers, the only brothers in the world to hold principal timpanist positions in two major orchestras simultaneously.

During a 35-year period, Morris and Mark Yancich have collaborated many times. Together, they rehearsed the Oliverio work on three occasions last fall with former VSO conductor and founder Robert Welch coaching the timpanists. They have performed together on the Glass composition on several occasions as well as the VSO performance of the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. Morris sits in for Yancich occasionally as substitute timpanist and has worked as second timpanist with him with the Atlanta Symphony. They performed together on the Grammy Award-winning recording of the Berlioz Requiem.

For the Oliverio concerto, audiences can expect to hear more than just two timpanists “drumming around.”

 “The Dynasty Concerto explores elements of our craft such as touch, tone, harmonic sonorities, counter melodies, strong thematic melodic material, and critical balance issues that many percussion concerti do not explore due to the falsely perceived notion by some composers that percussion instruments lack the ability to be highly expressive,” Morris says.  

The timpani are complemented by the subtle interaction of two harps throughout the concerto.

“Following a very dramatic timpani-like first movement, the second movement is a beautiful Debussy-like movement that explores textures between the timpani and harps and passes the primary melodic material to the timpani. This is an interesting feature, because timpani rarely get to play the melodies. The third movement is without the orchestra, so the timpanists play a solo duet that involves chord progressions and melodies that stand on their own with no orchestral support. The fourth movement starts off with a nostalgic horn call recalling and revering all our musical ancestors who have developed our art form to the present day. The last movement is a real tour de force for both players interacting with the orchestra, culminating in two short cadenzas that are exciting and entertaining.”

For Morris, the timpani has long been exciting and entertaining.

As a fifth-grader, David Morris began playing drums. After hearing the Beatles, he created a homemade drum set from boxes. His parents finally bought him a drum set a few years later when Morris was a high school sophomore. As a junior, he joined the school band to learn to read music. He played concert percussion and with the school jazz band. He still describes the drum set as his “original love.”

In college, Morris’ teacher was an orchestral player. Morris traded the drum set for melodic percussion and the snare drum.  

“When I saw the timpani, I gravitated there because it was the closest to the drum set of the percussion family,” he says. “When playing timpani in an orchestra, I still feel like the drummer in a big band, to some degree. Once I had lessons on timpani, I was hooked and it became my primary interest, professionally. The timpani speak to me because of their structural function in orchestra music.”

In addition to the Oliverio work, the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra will perform Liadov’s “The Enchanted Lake,” Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier Concert Suite,” Respighi’s “Fountains of Rome.”

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