In Vermont, open air drumming

Sunday, May 20, 2012
Jeremy Eichler writes for The Boston Globe:

Is there music in the night sky?

Of course thinkers from Pythagoras to Johannes Kepler have pondered “the music of the spheres,” and composers from Gustav Holst to Mark-Anthony Turnage have on occasion waxed astronomical in their own works.

But none have addressed the question quite as literally as the French spectralist Gerard Grisey, whose hourlong percussion work of 1989-90, “Le Noir de l’Etoile,” would seem to settle the matter once and for all. Conceived for six percussionists, tape, and live electronics, the piece takes as its inspiration and musical DNA the captured sounds of two actual pulsars, rhythmically beating from distant corners of the universe.

And at sunset on May 25, the sounds of those pulsars will be returned to the night sky once more, as a group of percussionists in residence at Yellow Barn will mount a rare outdoor performance of Grisey’s bracing masterwork in an open field part way up a mountain in Putney, Vt. The musicians will perform on six platforms encircling the audience.

“There are a few pieces out there that go beyond drumming,” said Eduardo Leandro, a percussionist who has served on the Yellow Barn faculty and first proposed doing the Grisey outdoors. Leandro regards “Le Noir de l’Etoile” as a landmark 20th-century percussion score on par with iconic works by Varese, Xenakis, and Reich. “These pieces have an artistic and aesthetic core that remind you of the reason why percussion exists.”