One Drummer, Four Arms?! Hear a Limb-Defying Performance by the Symphony This Weekend

Andrew Bogard
One Drummer, Four Arms?! Hear a Limb-Defying Performance by the Symphony This Weekend

Composer Jennifer Higdon

THIS WEEKEND, THE Houston Symphony will premier composer Jennifer Higdon’s Duo Duel for Two Percussionists and Orchestra, a work commissioned by the symphony, featuring percussionists Matthew Strauss and Svet Stoyanov. Robert Spano conducts.

After a year-long, pandemic-related delay, Strauss is more than ready to perform this new and thoroughly challenging piece by the Pulitzer- and Grammy-winning composer in which, ideally, the music will sound like it’s being played by one percussionist with four arms.

“Jennifer said, ‘Don’t underestimate it. The parts look easier than they are.’” says Strauss. “She was right!”

The percussion instrumentation required for the piece includes marimba, vibraphone, crotales and two sets of timpani. In performance, Strauss and Stoyanov will be positioned between Spano and the orchestra, in order to ensure clear and constant communication with the conductor as they navigate rhythmic complexities of Higdon’s score. The two have also choreographed their movements for moments when they play the same instrument at the same time, executing parts that are within one note of the other.

“This particular composition is very rich in a lot of different colors,” says Strauss. “There’s a wide range of musical character, from very virtuosic, fast, choppy playing, to very beautiful sounds throughout the orchestra and solo parts.”

The fact that Houston Symphony continues to commission and program new music is laudable, but were it not for the positive feedback from its subscribers, chances are we’d be stuck listening to the same old symphonies season after season.

“The audience is very receptive,” says Strauss, who grew up listening to classical repertoire as well as rock, jazz and Latin American music. “I think it’s extremely important for arts organizations to constantly play new works and commission new pieces.”

Along with the Higdon premiere, the Mother’s Day weekend program includes Rainbow Body by Christopher Theofanidis, a work commissioned and premiered by the symphony back in April 2000, and Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3, which includes fragments of Copland’s majestic Fanfare for the Common Man.

Art + Entertainment
Ancient French Wellness Cures Reimagined at Houston’s Escape Spa: The Power of Vichy

Serial entrepreneur and spa visionary LeBrina Jackson

NESTLED IN THE heart of France, the town of Vichy holds a rich history in the world of wellness and hydrotherapy. Acquiring fame for their alkaline springs in the 17th century, the Romans were among the first to recognize the therapeutic benefits of the springs. They established a French spa known as “Vichy,” which still exists today and continues to attract spa-goers from around the world to experience the transformative effects of hydrotherapy.

Keep ReadingShow less

Slushies at Fuzzy's

IT’S OFFICIAL: THE long holiday that kicks off summer arrives this weekend, and Houstonians are due. Getting hungry, thirsty, and ready for some R&R? Whether you want to grill at home, start with casual brunch, or hit a Memorial Day celebration to honor our veterans, we’ve got you covered.

Keep ReadingShow less
Food

“DO YOU KNOW how a river forms?” is the question that begins Houston author Vaishnavi Patel’s new book, Goddess of the River. The voice belongs to Ganga, goddess of India’s Ganges river, who has been transformed against her will by Lord Shiva from “a tributary of the cosmic ocean” into the physical form of a mere winding river, with no path to the heavens, only the sea. Later, Ganga runs afoul of a powerful sage who transforms her yet again into a human, and as it happens in myths, things get complicated.

Keep ReadingShow less
Art + Entertainment