“White Knuckle Stroll” is a title that makes me sit up and pay attention.
Last Sunday, percussionist Kyle Hollerbach started his senior recital at Fort Lewis College with a solo marimba work by that name. It brought the near-capacity crowd in Roshong Recital Hall to quick attention.
At 3 p.m., Hollerbach sauntered on stage with two mallets and a barely decipherable smile. He approached the marimba, glanced at the audience, took a minute, then plunged into a three-minute, high-octane drive – not a stroll at all.
Composed by Casey Cangelosi, 33, “White Knuckle Stroll” started with an explosive descending line and never let up. It was the first of eight pieces drawn from 20th-century percussionist-composers with names you may not know but who have propelled modern percussion works onto the leading edge of contemporary music.
Only one outlier, “Alborada del Gracioso” by Maurice Ravel, fell in the middle of this jamboree, a playful, melodic duet on two marimbas performed from memory by Hollerbach and Michael McAtamney.
Like all percussion majors, Hollerbach has had to master a dozen or more instruments. He switched to timpani for William Cahn’s “Raga 1,” one of the longest works on the program, timing out at six minutes.
Cahn’s “Raga” explores the rhythmic and melodic capabilities of the kettle drum and is inspired by North Indian music. Hollerbach easily underscored the hypnotic quality of the piece by incorporating complex hand-and-mallet patterns.
In his tight, one-hour recital, Hollerbach demonstrated mastery over other percussion instruments – the snare drum in Robin Engleman’s “Clean it up – please” and the vibraphone in Emmanual Sèjournè’s “Losa,” a duet with fellow senior Tyler Colle on marimba.
In a very big finale, Hollerbach centered a percussion quartet to perform John Thrower’s “Starry Night” from a longer work, “Aurora Borealis.”
Returning to the marimba, Hollerbach functioned as soloist while Colle, Noah Walker, Cruz Muniz all played a multitude of other instruments, including timpani, bongos, vibraphone and even whistling. The opening section swelled with glissandos, then the players ratcheted up the musical tension to create illusionistic music evocative of the title.
If you’re curious about new music, FLC percussion recitals and concerts are the go-to events in town. That’s been true from the stewardship of John Pennington to Jonathan Latta to John O’Neal, now formally the new head of percussion studies at FLC.
In mid-March, Colle gave his recital and played the Sèjournè duet with Hollerbach. These two talented seniors reprised the work last Sunday, and fans of the FLC recitals got to hear that beautiful work a second time.
The FLC Percussion Ensemble will give its spring concert at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Community Concert Hall. If you need a shot of energy and some positive, forward thinking, be there. The $5 FLC Music Department tickets are the best deal in town.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, art historian and arts journalist.