A pianist, a percussionist and a composer
Durango gets a triple shot of music in January

A Hirschfeld-inspired caricature of three musicians performing concerts in the coming week. From left pianist Steven Mayer; Linda Mack, conductor with the Fort Lewis College Chamber Choir; and John Pennington, FLC percussion studies professor./Illustration by Judith Reynolds.

by Judith Reynolds

The boom box at the Post Office playing “Frosty the Snowman” did me in. Is nothing sacred anymore, not even mailing packages in a government building?

Now two weeks after the holidays, I want music – real music. No more ersatz carols pouring out of speakers at the mall, the doctor’s office, above the dental chair. Alas, the gods of January have scheduled three unusual concerts this weekend. Together, they feature classical, jazz, new music and more new music. Friday night, Jan. 13, a powerhouse piano guy from the East Coast arrives. Sunday afternoon there’s a splendidly quirky faculty recital. And on Monday night a dressy, pre-tour choral concert offers music you’ve never heard before. What’s not to love?

Piano Man

Friday’s concert features pianist Steven Mayer. He’s flying in from New York en route to Mexico City for another appearance. He’ll perform a high-octane mix of classical music and jazz in a new recital series brainstormed and developed by

Arthur Post, music director of the San Juan Symphony.

“The idea to offer something new, a two-part piano series was presented to me by a manager I know,” Post said in a recent interview. “The Adams Foundation is based in New York and funds concerts all over the country. It’s a great opportunity for us and for our audience.”

Born in New York City, Mayer is riding high on a steep career curve. Now in his mid-40s, he studied at three of the country’s major conservatories: Juilliard, Peabody and the Manhattan School of Music, where he has served as professor of piano. He’s known for his Liszt recordings and jazz improvisations and now records for Naxos. Since 2004, he’s been on tour with a lecture-recital program called “The American Piano.”

Performing Friday in St. Columba Church, Mayer will repeat the concert Saturday in Farmington’s newly restored Totah Theatre.

“I’ll be offering a big program,” Mayer said in a telephone interview from New York this week. He’ll open with Mozart’s Rondo in A Minor and follow with two Liszt transcriptions from Wagner’s opera, “Tannhäuser.” Then he’ll plunge into works by an early American transplant: Anthony Philip Heinrich, whose “eccentric tendencies sound a lot like Vienna in the 1790s,” Mayer said.

“The second half is all American music,” Mayer said. This includes Louis Gottschalk’s “Souvenir de Puerto Rico” and his masterpiece, “The Dying Poet;” Charles Ives’ “The Celestial Railroad;” a piece by Jelly Roll Morton; a number of Harlem Stride composers – James P. Johnson (Fats Waller’s teacher), Art Tatum and Fats. If audience response calls for an encore, Mayer has a dazzling choice, not to be given away here.

Tickets are $18, or $30 for the January and March concerts in the series. Seating is open, so music lovers are advised to get tickets and seats early.

Marimba Guy

Sunday afternoon in Roshong Recital Hall you can hear John Pennington on three of his many instruments – marimba, vibraphone and maracas. Pennington is professor of percussion studies at FLC, and he’s always seeking out new sounds and new composers.

“The first half is the jazzier half,” Pennington said. Jazz, indeed. He’ll open with a piece for (are you ready for this?) solo maracas.

“It’s a beautiful work,” Pennington said, “written by the Spanish composer Javier Alvarez. He’s exploring the solo potential of the Venezuelan maracas. It’s performed with a pre-recorded tape; you can hear harp, bass and other instruments in the background.”

Now you know why I describe Pennington’s recitals as fresh, different and full of sit-up-and-listen music.

Mark Glentworth’s mysterious “Blues for Gilbert” follows, “a new piece for me on vibraphone,” Pennington said. “Very rubato (flexible tempos), with a strong swinging section.”

Also on vibraphone is Pennington’s arrangement of a Steve Reich work retitled as “Electric Counterpoint.”

“Reich has written a bunch of these ‘counterpoints,’” Pennington said. “‘New York Counterpoint’ is for 10 clarinets plus soloist; ‘Vermont’ is for a bunch of flutes with soloist. Each one is accompanied by a tape recording. I arranged the flute one for vibraphone, and I’ll perform with a tape of 10 pre-recorded guitars.”

Pennington wraps up the jazz half with several short pieces by jazz pianist Chick Corea. Lisa Campi, FLC piano professor, joins Pennington (vibraphone) in these tuneful works. Reich wrote about 30 “Children’s Songs,” and we’ll hear seven.

“The second half is more chamber music,” Pennington said. He will play a duo for violin and marimba with colleague Mikylah McTeer in 5/4 meter which he calls “very, very syncopated” and “very virtuosic.” Then with flutist Rochelle Mann, Pennington will play three musical snapshots of Asia by Gareth Farr, a New Zealand composer. Each is inspired by a different type of music, Gamelan, Japanese shakuhachi, and South Indian. He’ll close the program with a marimba solo, “Wood that Sings,” by Gordon Stout.

“It’s melodious and brings out the lyrical qualities of the marimba,” he said. “It’s the one I’m most excited to play.”

Madame Conductor

At 7 p.m. Monday night, Jan. 16, Pennington’s colleague Linda Mack will conduct the FLC Chamber Choir in Roshong Recital Hall. Professor of choral music at FLC, Mack says her students are “ready, really ready.”

“We’ve been preparing for this pre-tour concert since last semester,” said Mack. “We’ll be performing at the Colorado Music Educators Association conference in Colorado Springs. This is our only hometown presentation.”

Expect to hear a 30-minute core program of unusual pieces in different languages. “I’m trying to inspire music educators,” Mack said, “with a variety of styles and a technical performance that will make them go ‘aha!’” That’s how Mack described her process of selection.

The program contains works by living composers, sung in different languages “and a few extra works we want to perform just for the local audience,” Mack said. “I’ll talk about the composers. The works are modern but not dissonant, lovely melodies and very virtuosic.”

The performance will be augmented by Pennington; two members of the FLC Percussion Ensemble; and pianist Lisa Campi, FLC assistant professor of piano.

“We’ll perform two movements from ‘Gutenses Signo,’ by Anders Åstrand, a Swedish composer I met in Santa Fe last summer,” Mack said. “We premiered part of that work at the International Percussive Arts Convention in 2003 with John and his students.”

The group also will sing two Sephardic folk songs, sung in Ladino; works by the South American composer Osvaldo Golijov, sung in Spanish; and a big French-Canadian piece, “J’entendes Le Moulin.”

“It has a virtuosic piano part,” Mack said, “perfect for Lisa.”

Tickets for the pre-tour concert are $5 adults, $1 students, available at the door.

And to think, it’s only January – wait until you see what’s coming up in February. •