Instrumentation: Concerto for Timpani, 2 Percussion and Orchestra
Premiered by Joseph Pereira, Maraca2, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel on January 25, 2018
Commissioned by Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel
Composed: 2017 Length: c. 25 minutes
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (world premiere)
Thresholds, Joseph Pereira’s new score reminds us, are two faced, looking backwards and forwards. They separate and they connect, they open and they close. They represent opportunity and the path not yet taken; cross the threshold and you are committed to a new space.
“Music, and art in general, is really about creating space, and the thresholds within that space are what really interest me,” Pereira says. “At the time of writing this piece, I could not help but think about the world we now live in, how the ‘threshold’ of our current human experience of each other and the world has changed drastically. There are so many issues we are now faced with, issues that get thrown at us every day from the news – and now you have to question if any of it is even true.
“Whether you agree with certain issues or not, we are living in a polarized climate. In a way, there’s a concentration of intensity which questions the thresholds we live in. Because of this, life has become saturated with tension and anxiety – much like the feeling of this piece.”
Sonic space then is a formal element of Threshold, and timbre and texture are its thematic components. This is reflected physically, with the three soloists spread symmetrically across the front of the orchestra, with ceramic tiles – literal thresholds made musical – in center place. Indeed, with three percussionists of its own across the back, the orchestra is enveloped in percussion, and most instruments exploit and share percussive techniques and gestures, just as there are bowed and resonating wind elements in the percussion array.
The piece was written for the Maraca2 percussion duo at their suggestion. The solo parts are very virtuosic and create a sense of volatility and anxiousness. But though they are sometimes competitive with each other and have defined cadenzas, they are not in opposition with the orchestra, or contrasted against it, in conventional concerto dynamics. That is another freely explored and crossed threshold, as the sound of soloists and orchestra merge into a strong collective presence, expanding and relaxing as a sort of organic hyper-instrument.
The three soloists begin at maximum distance from each other, with a softly sighing ebb and flow from gongs placed on timpani. Orchestral instruments soon join them, and the gliding glissandos merge into the sound of blown air, and finally pitched scales, which symbolize “meaning.” The chanting rhythms that come in and out of time and the temple bowls with bells suggest religious rituals, representing hope.
“The air sounds that come back, mostly at the end of the piece, symbolize nature, a reminder that there’s something bigger than us,” the composer says. “It is not until the last section that we have all the elements together – air, chanting, and the barest elements of the pitch material attempting to create a vast open space. The soloists’ parts are mostly improvised here. The solo material is laid out linearly against the orchestra, creating even more expansive space.” – John Henken