Vortex’s concert will feature bells, whistles and one crazy clown

vortexPerhaps music really did begin with some caveman beating two sticks together. That would explain the primal energy that Vortex will release this weekend, when it presents one of its typically kinetic concerts at the Blair School of Music’s Turner Hall.

As usual, Vortex’s concert will be a multimedia event, with artistic director Michael Holland and his young percussionists providing accompaniment to a classic Fleischer brothers’ film featuring the delightfully mischievous Koko the Clown.

The program will also include two signature works of Mary Ellen Childs’ renowned percussion group Crash, along with a work for gourd scrapers and a novelty ragtime xylophone piece. Guitarist Robert Thompson, tenor saxophonist Ryan Middagh and bassist Joe Donley will also appear in one of Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim’s classic songs.

kokoHolland has composed and compiled a soundtrack to accompany Modeling, the 1921 Fleischer brothers’ silent film. “Most people have seen really bad copies of silent films on YouTube or TV, so they have no idea how exciting these films can be,” says Holland. “When you see these films on the big screen, the images positively jump to life.”

Jumping to life is the idea behind Modeling. An artist’s drawing of a clown comes to life, slides off the page and enters our three-dimensional world. Holland’s score creates a tintinnabulation of sound using piano, xylophone, three marimbas, vibraphone, timpani and various sound effects.

Holland describes Childs’ Click as an actual knuckle buster. The piece consists of three percussionists playing claves. As the rhythms become more complex, the players start playing off the claves of the percussionists standing next to them.

“You can end up with some bruised knuckles when someone misses the mark,” says Holland. “It’s a great piece that composer and critic Kyle Gann compared to Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, only a thousand times more virtuosic.”

Sunday’s program will also include:

  • Childs’ Three, a visual percussion piece for three drummers playing floor toms on rolling chairs.
  • Joe Green’s Xylophonia, a Vaudeville-era ragtime solo featuring magic lantern advertising and theater announcement slides.
  • Scratch, a rhythmically-charged work for four musicians playing gourd scrapers.
  • Two movements from The Invisible Proverb, a quintet inspired by West-African proverbs and talking-drum rhythms.

Vortex’s free concert starts at 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9. Seating at Turner Hall is limited, so contemporary music fans would be advised to arrive early.

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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.


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