Basement Tapes Vol. 2

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Shannon Wood needed to get in some extra practice last week as he and his family are heading to parts un-Midwestern soon. I’ll have my promised video interview up at the end of the week, so let’s call this the Monday bookend. This is also titled “Wood Does a 360,” or “Hey, Dr. J, Where Did You Get Those Moves?” William Kraft’s Timpani Concerto No. 2, “The Grand Encounter,” from the first movement, shot in Shannon’s basement studio in Grand Center.

A Lot of Timpani

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Wednesday Shannon Wood was back in his practice studio working on William Kraft’s Timpani Concerto No. 2, “The Grand Encounter.” He sent me this video. As someone said, “That’s a lot of timpani,” and Wood has to play them all.

I’ll have more video with an interview next week.

Kraft Talk

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Shannon Wood arrived in his Frank Zappa T-shirt to talk about the William Kraft Timpani Concerto No. 2. Wood gives the St. Louis Symphony premiere of the piece April 30-May 1 at Powell Hall, David Robertson conducting.

Shannon Wood. Photo credit: Maureen Byrne.
Shannon Wood. Photo credit: Maureen Byrne.

My colleague Maureen Byrne came along with me to Shannon’s Grand Center studio and caught the action shot above with her magic phone. I’ll have a video of Shannon playing a bit of the concerto and talking about it next week.

Shannon talks Kraft.
Shannon talks Kraft.

Shannon told us that the Kraft Concerto No. 2 was commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony and premiered in 2005. Also commissioned was the making of the nine tenor timpani, which you see hanging from above. Six regular timpani are set on the floor.

In the Wood Kitchen

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Timpani don’t get called kettle drums much any more, at least around Powell Hall. But then Principal Timpani Shannon Wood sent me these pictures of his setup for William Kraft’s Timpani Concerto No. 2, “The Grand Encounter,” which Wood and the Symphony will perform April 30-May 1, 2016, David Robertson conducting.

IMG_1200IMG_1171To me it looks like a kitchen of kettles in the home of the mad ramen chef. Rather, it’s Wood’s studio, not far from Powell Hall, where he is already at work figuring out the double-decker timpani system.

Wood has agreed to shoot a video with me about the Kraft work soon, in which we may try to work in another Kraftwerk pun. See it here later this month.

Different Drums

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Principal Timpani Shannon Wood was on stage taking pictures of a brand-new set of timpani Thursday morning prior to rehearsal of Puccini’s La Rondine. I wouldn’t say he was as excited as a child on Christmas morning, but he seemed pretty happy.

Shannon Wood with new Walter Light Mark XIV Timpani, handmade w/custom altelrations
Shannon Wood with new Walter Light Mark XIV Timpani, handmade w/custom alterations

He was taking photos so the maker could see them on the Powell Hall stage (see caption). Proof! Shannon told me the previous timpani, played on by the late Richard Holmes, were from the 1960s. Although this sounded as if they were prehistoric to me, Shannon explained that he had a set from the 1950s. He pointed to the pedals on the new set, a Dresden pedal, he explained, which timpanists can adjust with a flex of the ankle. Another set of timpani were placed center stage for the Puccini, which Shannon told me were used by the Youth Orchestra and by Associate Principal Tom Stubbs. Those have a Berlin pedal, Shannon said, which require a musician to raise his or her whole leg to adjust. “Not bad,” Shannon told me, “just different.”

The new timpani were fixed with plastic drum heads, rather than calf skin. Shannon said he used both types of drum head, and chose between the two “mostly due to weather.” The calf skin absorbs moisture more, and so will tend to drop or sag if the humidity is high; or rise when the humidity is low. “Calf is not so good in the orchestra pit” at Opera Theatre, he said.

Powell Hall has improved climate control on stage. Shannon shook his head imagining the logistical conundrums Rick Holmes faced during his 40 years on the job.

Tiger Lair

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Where are the musicians of the St. Louis Symphony? They show up everywhere, in St. Louis, in the county and across the river in Illinois. Tuesday, University of Missouri (Mizzou) students received a master class from Principal Percussion Will James, Principal Timpani Shannon Wood, and pianists Nina Ferrigno and Peter Henderson, both of whom often appear with the orchestra.

Will James demonstrates snare drum technique, Shannon Wood in background
Will James demonstrates snare drum technique, Shannon Wood in background

In the evening the quartet performs Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion at the Whitmore Recital Hall on campus. Will James braved the Tiger lair in his Duke polo during master class. Not for performance, I’m told.

Ear Candy

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Home again home again jiggety-jig. At least for some. Many musicians are staying the weekend in NYC. And why not? You can find quite a bit of nourishment in New York. Some are taking in a matinee of the Metropolitan Opera, because they truly live for music, or, possibly more accurately, music has become their lives.

The St. Louis Symphony provided its own nourishment to the Carnegie audience. Many raves are coming in via social media and elsewhere. First review I’ve seen. Click.

A horn-section view of Carnegie rehearsal.
A horn-section view of Carnegie rehearsal.

A few perspectives from those who played the music. From Principal Timpani Shannon Wood: “The talent, subtle musical nuances and the heritage of sound that this orchestra has cultivated over the years never ceases to amaze me. Audiences hear/notice the difference. Guest conductors say how unique and rare it is to hear an orchestra with such tradition and character in ┬ásound.

“It’s vital that we continue to share this institution with other audiences. We have something special to share.”

Second violinist Lorraine Glass-Harris, playing her last Carnegie, that is unless some smart orchestra brings her in as a ringer in seasons to come: “My thoughts, yes, always many of them … First, personal, this was my last concert with the St. Louis Symphony in Carnegie. An understandable telescoping of past and present, all the way back to the Susskind performances of the early ’70s, my entry to the professional world of orchestral sports.

“Of greater interest, even to me, however, is the pure pleasure of performing in the fine acoustics of Carnegie. The absolute necessity of the players to be performing not just here but in all the great Halls of the world, not just once, but often in one’s career.

“The value of hearing one’s individual contribution and responding to the collective sound Is inestimable. And the best part, of course, is that the group brings this knowledge back to Powell. Recycled for greater clarity and a fuller sense of the whole.

“Learning how to listen and how to contribute has been among the best accomplishments of my 43 years with the orchestra. Carnegie Hall? Ear candy!”

And from English horn player Cally Banham, who got a shout out from the aforementioned review: “It’s always thrilling to hear my colleagues play in Carnegie–so much detail can be heard of color and subtleties in phrasing because of the perfect acoustic!

“I had the pleasure onstage and off last night. I don’t play the Tchaikovsky Symphony so [Associate Principal Oboe] Barbara Orland and I went out into the audience. At the end of the first movement we turned to each other with mouths agape and said, ‘It sounds like the greatest orchestra in the world!'”

The musicians who have arrived home have come back to spring after the snows of Manhattan. In St. Louis the birds are singing songs much older than Tchaikovsky’s symphonies. But both are familiar songs. We cannot live without them.

Wednesday Night Mass

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If you are not a Twitter follower–and believe me, I understand if you are not–Wednesday night during my live rehearsal tweets you missed this blurry photo of Principal Timpani Shannon Wood showing me the place in his part where the he plays “diggadadiggadadiggadadiggadadig.”

Principal Timpani Shannon Wood
Principal Timpani Shannon Wood

When David Robertson discussed the Credo section of Beethoven’s Mass in C, he introduced it by saying, “If you’re looking for a good time, check out the timpani part.”

If you’re looking for a good time, be at Powell Hall Friday or Saturday night. Many good times to be had.

Timpani Are Up to No Good

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There are some astonishing timpani parts to Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4, “The Inextinguishable.” The final movement includes a timpani duel, kinda like a classic rock guitar duel. You gotta hear and see it live, with Shannon Wood and Tom Stubbs performing Friday and Saturday.

I caught Shannon during some quieter moments in the symphony. As the baseball great Branch Rickey used to say, you can learn a lot about baseball by just watching one position player during a game. You can learn a lot about how the timpani fits in with the orchestra by watching Shannon Wood.

Moon Style

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The Opening Weekend concerts conclude with Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4, “The Inextinguishable.” The work features two sets of “dueling” timpani, set on opposite sides of the stage. I talked to Principal Timpani Shannon Wood about the piece, and we got into the whole “dueling” idea, thinking of dueling guitar jams in rock concerts. Wood said, “Maybe I should toss my sticks out to the audience at the end. Or roll the drums off the stage Keith Moon style.”

Keith Moon
Keith Moon