Vortex makes music with wood, steel, plastic, you name it

vortexTwo composers closely associated with New York City’s multifaceted new music organization Bang on a Can are getting their due in Nashville this month.

Next weekend, Nashville Opera will present the first Nashville performance of composer David Lang’s terrific avant-garde opera The Difficulty of Crossing a Field. To get us in the mood for that work, the Blair School of Music’s percussion ensemble Vortex will perform the music of Bang on a Can composer Michael Gordon at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 4, at Ingram Hall.

In lieu of a can, Vortex will be banging on wood for a good part of Sunday’s concert. The ensemble will present a 12-minute excerpt from Gordon’s masterful, evening-length piece Timber. The work calls on six percussionists to strike two-by-fours of varying lengths with mallets. These resonant wood blocks, in turn, produce swirls of sonic color. The musicians perform the piece standing in a circle in a largely darkened concert hall.

“The wood produces so many overtones that you really hear the full spectrum of color,” says Michael Holland, Vortex’s artistic director.

Continuing with the wood theme, Vortex will also present minimalist composer Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood. This remarkable piece, composed in 1973, features five percussionists playing pairs of tuned claves. It’s one of Reich’s most strikingly original and rhythmically vibrant works.

Other works on the program will include an arrangement of Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu’s Sakura, a folk tune arranged for glockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, crotales and finger cymbals. And Earl Yowell’ Whacker Drive, arranged for tuned plastic cylinders called boomwhackers.

If you go

Vortex presents the music of Michael Gordon, Steve Reich, Toru Takemitsu and more. The free concert begins at 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4, at Ingram Hall, 2400 Blakemore Ave.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), ArtNowNashville.com and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.