Junkyard Impressions

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I went to high school in Milwaukee, and I’ve been to junkyards, looking for cheap tires for my rusty old car. And those were amazing junkyards… I mean for miles. But I’ve never gone searching for instruments before! 

Kraft is really an exploration of sound and space. The sonic possibilities of traditional percussion instruments only go so far, so Magnus Lindburg needed things that will create an entirely different range of sounds, beyond just manipulating existing instruments. He also wanted to bring the sounds of the city into the hall in a way that could be controlled according to the score and the structure and the rhythms and the pitches. I think the bottom line is that if he could, he would get a chunk of the Brooklyn Bridge and bring it on stage, pound on that, and say, “Hey look, this is the sound of New York!”

I think the closest way to achieve that while being local was by going to a junkyard where New Yorkers deposit things that they don’t need anymore. It’s not that Lindberg needs specific types of disc brakes or car parts: it’s just that he needs a very big variety of sounds. I think we’ve fulfilled this mission. The very fact that we went and we looked for other types of sounds is very cool. I remember Principal Percussionist Christopher Lamb found some oxygen tanks and then, all of a sudden, he let fantasy take over, saying “well, just banging on it sounds like banging on any other metallic object, but if you sliced it, then you get all these other pitches out of it and that could be really great.”

What’s interesting about Kraft is that it is a reaction to some alternative music that Lindberg heard in Berlin, when he was living there in the 1980s. It’s written for full orchestra, with lots of percussion instruments and six soloists. Each of the soloists plays not only their usual instruments but a host of others. The clarinetist plays four clarinets, including the contrabass, and ten different percussion instruments. Lindberg plays another 20 instruments in addition to the solo piano part.

On top of that, there are three solo percussion stations on stage, played by Principal Timpanist Markus Rhoten, Principal Percussionist Christopher Lamb, and Associate Principal Percussionist Daniel Druckman. Carter Brey, our Principal Cellist, plays not only the cello, but also maracas, cymbals, the oxygen tank and even a large gong that is suspended above the audience in the hall. His part isn’t very simple: the rhythms are very intricate, so he must follow the conductor with total precision from a great distance.

This brings us to our last soloist: the conductor. Alan Gilbert plays a whistle, a wine glass and has a solo speaking part. So there is a lot of movement happening and sounds come from all kinds of places. As Assistant Conductor, not only do I cover for Alan, I help with logistical stuff like telling people where they need to be at certain points in the piece. But of course I also have to be ready to conduct it at a moment’s notice... so I need to practice the solo vocal part!!