Student percussionists, with Burritt, to highlight ‘diversity of sound,’ composers in afternoon recital

School of Music Instrumental Program students, led by percussion faculty Michael Burritt, rehearse for their upcoming recital Wednesday in Bellinger Hall. The percussion ensemble recital is at 4 p.m. today in Fletcher Music Hall. Dave Munch/Photo Editor

Zoe Kolenovsky
Staff writer

Michael Burritt, guest faculty member in the School of Music Instrumental Program, realizes selections for a concert program need to benefit the performers and the listeners alike.

“I’m always trying to pick pieces that I think will be challenging for the students and also interesting and compelling for the audience to listen to us,” he said.

At 4 p.m. today in Fletcher Music Hall, students in the percussion program will perform a series of contemporary works under the guidance of internationally acclaimed talent Burritt.

Burritt has soloed with orchestral groups domestically and abroad. These include performances with the United States Air Force Band, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, Grammy Award-winning Third Coast Percussion, Taiwan’s Ju Percussion Group and Germany’s Percussion Art Quartet, among many others. He is also globally renowned for his percussive compositions, including three concertos and numerous solo and chamber works.

The program for this afternoon begins with a 2021 piece by Chicago-based composer Clarice Assad titled “The Hero” — “a fun piece,” said Burritt. “I try to start with a piece that has an energy to it.”

Whenever Burritt builds a program, he tries to create one “that can work homogeneously or in a way that makes sense to the listeners, getting some variety,” he said. “They’re hearing pieces from our repertoire that in some ways can go together, but also can create some diversity of sound.”

Next is the first and fourth movements from Argentinian composer Alejandro Vinao’s “Book of Grooves.”

“It’s the hardest thing on the program because there are just so many notes to play,” said Izaiah Gonzales, one of the students who will be performing this afternoon. “Vinao does this thing where he establishes the groove and then tries to develop it without destroying it. He pushes it to the absolute boundaries.”

Gonzales will be joined onstage by students Jake Haskins, Seth Tupy and Karel Zambrano to deliver the five works included in today’s recital. The small number of students has allowed the musicians to get to know each other well, providing an intimacy that is highlighted in the cohesive quality of their music-making.

“In percussion, we have to switch around a lot. … You’re always bouncing around,” said Burritt. “The percussionist section in general always has to collaborate no matter what we’re doing, whether it be playing an orchestra, or a wind ensemble, or in a chamber.”

The students spend most of their time with each other, Gonzales said. For Burritt, getting to know the students — and vice versa — “can be a more immersive educational experience.”

“We get to hang out and rehearse and I’m also playing with them, which I also think is important,” he said.

The show will continue with “Escape,” a 2014 composition by American Drew Worden.

“I try to make sure we’re representing a diverse spectrum of composers,” Burritt said. “That’s part of what the program is showing as well — different representative groups.”

This diversity is reflected in pieces by composers of various ethnicities and nationalities, as well as gender. Irish composer Emma O’Halloran wrote the next piece in the program, a 2019 work titled “Shell.”

The afternoon will conclude with “Fast Forward,” a 2022 concerto written by American Joseph Schwanter. The longest piece of the program, the concerto will spotlight Burritt as a soloist alongside his students and includes piano and bass accompaniment.

“The percussion writing is just fabulous, amazing,” Gonzales said. “It’s really challenging just because there’s so much going on. So it’s hard to follow as a performer, but it’s a really cool piece.”

Burritt agreed: “It’s a big piece. … It was hard for them to really dig into that until I got here, so we spent a lot of time on it.”

“This piece is really special to me in particular,” Gonzales said, “because I go to Eastman and it originally premiered at Eastman two years ago. So that’s a really special connection.”

Burritt is currently the chair of the Winds, Brass, and Percussion Department at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from there as well, extending the legacy of this work over multiple generations of performers.

“It’s what I love about what I do – getting to get in the weeds with the students, getting to know them as musicians and their strengths or weaknesses, getting to know them as people and getting to invest in them,” he said. 


The author Zoe Kolenovsky