MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

New Moves with the NSO

Thomas Wilkins

Thomas Wilkins

This weekend brings the next installment in the National Symphony Orchestra’s current NEW MOVES: symphony + dance festival. I enjoyed researching this material to write the program essays for all three programs, which are being conducted by the Omaha Symphony’s Thomas Wilkins. Each program pairs classic American rep with music by living composers.

This second of the three programs features the Timpani Concerto No. 1 (“The Olympian”) by James Oliverio. Here’s a bit of my intro to his work:

The composer, educator, and new media producer James Oliverio (now based in Florida) has been redefining what it means to be a creative artist in the 21st century. “As composer there are two main ‘instruments’ that I work with: the symphony orchestra and the digital media studio,” he says, envisioning a music of the future that bridges the gap between traditional acoustic instruments and our rapidly evolving digital world. “Ultimately I want to unite them — to remove the distinction between my digital and orchestral endeavors,” adds Oliverio, an acclaimed pioneer of globally synchronized performing arts collaborations. (The rest can be found here.)


More on the amazing Jauvon Gilliam, principal timpanist of the NSO, from Andrew Lindemann Malone’s blog post. Writes Malone:

Not everyone who attends orchestral concerts knows that the timpani is not a fixed-pitch instrument; drummers tune them through the use of a foot pedal. So to play the right notes, you have to have both your hands and your feet in the right spot. With the typical orchestral complement of four timpani, this is challenging enough; as Gilliam says, “it’s like a choreographed dance. You can overshoot it, you can undershoot it, it’s just like if you do a pirouette.” To really master the instrument, “you almost have to have four different brains or have your brain in four different compartments.”

It’s an unusual role for an instrument that normally sits in the back and makes everything sound fuller and more forceful, but Gilliam doesn’t mind the change. “My job is to support people. I really enjoy that, that’s what I love about my job,” he says, but performing a solo is a “different way of doing things, and it allows me to expand my talent. It allows me to be a better musician.”

The concerto is also, he says, “the hardest thing I’ve ever played” — a challenge worthy of the title “The Olympian,” and a summit only scalable for a man who’s sure on his feet.

Here’s Jauvon Gilliam’s own blog post on “The Olympian.”

And here’s a radio interview WETA’s Nicole LaCroix conducted with Wilkins (beginning), Gilliam (6:15), and Oliverio (at 9:15).

Filed under: American music, new music, programming innovation

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