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Concert


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red fish blue fish: Xenakis' Persephassa
Friday, March 1st, 2019
7:00 pm
Conrad Prebys Concert Hall
Free

Persephassa (1969) is the first of Xenakis' innovative and ambitious works for percussion ensemble. The title refers to the goddess Persephone, "the personification of telluric forces and of transmutations of life." The piece was commissioned for the first-ever Shiraz Festival (organized by the Empress of Iran), held at the historic desert site of Persepolis -- an awesome and altogether fitting setting for such a powerful work.

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Persephassa gains much of its effect from having the six percussionists distributed around the audience. The treatment of space as a musical parameter is one of the most important preoccupations of Xenakis' music, particularly in his works of the mid-to-late 1960s. The dramatic impact of utilizing the performance space in this manner is evident many passages throughout the piece in which accents or imitative rhythms are passed around the ensemble. Xenakis' spatial scheme is particularly successful in helping to clarify the counterpoint of the middle section, in which each player marks a series of pulsations, and then patterns, in his or her own tempo. This passage culminates in clouds of metallic sounds, played on a set of exotic instruments called simantras. Xenakis also throws in sirens, maracas, and pebbles, along with the usual arsenal of drums, wood blocks, cymbals, and gongs. The final section of Persephassa is quite extraordinary. In it, Xenakis winds up a rotating series of percussion rolls, spinning the accents around faster and faster, then adds another rotating pattern that moves in the opposite direction. By the end, there are six layered patterns swirling around at dizzying speed, breaking off into silence just when it seems impossible to keep listening without falling out of one's seat. The final gesture is a long, improvised outburst by all the players on all the instruments; the sound no doubt echoed throughout the ancient site of the premiere long after the final stroke.

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