ArtsATL > Music > Review: Percussionists Chix With Stix return like a phoenix in first concert in two years

Review: Percussionists Chix With Stix return like a phoenix in first concert in two years

An enthusiastic audience showed up Sunday afternoon to hear a performance by the Atlanta-based all-female percussion group Chix With Stix. Despite rain, a depressed arts economy and the distraction of an Atlanta Falcons football game, the audience filled more than half of the 350-seat Falany Performing Arts Center in Waleska, a tiny college town northwest of Canton in suburban Cherokee County.

Located on the campus of Reinhardt University, Falany will celebrate its 10th anniversary in February. The Chix made their debut there in 2004. Four of the five original members make up the ensemble today: Karen Hunt, Olivia Kieffer, Lisa Angert Morris and Courtney McDonald. Although the Chix have performed at Falany only four times, it feels like a home hall for them. Kieffer is a member of the Reinhardt music faculty, and McDonald a former faculty member.

At Sunday’s performance (from left): Lisa Angert Morris, guest Michael Cebulski, Courtney McDonald,
Karen Hunt and Olivia Kieffer. (Photo by Mark Gresham)

In this concert, composer and percussionist Michael Cebulski, a longtime friend, joined the group as guest. The first piece was Cebulski’s transcription of “Opening” from the 1981 album “Glassworks” by minimalist composer Philip Glass. Although the piece was originally for piano and horn, Cebulski’s version for percussion quintet is both more colorful and delicate than the Glass original. And the group allowed the broad arches of harmonic phrases to glisten and breathe, making this simple, but not simplistic, music move forward like a gently flowing stream.

Lynn Glassock’s “Time Mixer” followed. Written for a trio of non-pitched instruments, the two-minute piece uses a variety of time signatures to produce its lively rhythmic effect.

Cebulski returned to the stage as featured performer in “Mudra” by Bob Becker, a member of the famed Canadian percussion ensemble Nexus. “Mudra” was composed to accompany the dance “UrbhanaMudra” by choreographer Joan Phillips and was later edited by Becker for concert performance by Nexus. The word mudra refers to the narrative use of gestures in Indian dance.

A solo prepared snare drum with snares off, which Cebulski played, is the principal voice of this 13-minute work, in which structures of classical Indian music influence its formal, rhythmic and harmonic language. Its pitched elements are based upon the raga Chandrakauns (imagine C, E-flat, F, A-flat and B as scale) and its rhythmic elements upon principles of palta (motivic development) and tihai(rhythmic cadence). The tihai, especially, rather than harmonic cadences of Western music, is used to build tension that drives the work to its conclusion.

The second half of the program opened with the “Finale” from Dvořák’s popular “American” string quartet, transcribed for four marimbas. It was followed by “Intentions” by Eugene Novotney, a brief tour de force for three tambourines, and two tuneful selections from Yann Tiersen’s score to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 film “Amélie,” as arranged by Kieffer.

The concert concluded with the world premiere of “Chix Lix” by Cebulski. Better known as a performer than as composer, Cebulski originally proposed writing something for the Chix when he heard their 2004 debut, a plan that finally came to fruition with this piece.

“Chix Lix” is both serious and fun, prominently featuring three sizes of snare drum, a bass drum and “egg shakers.” The work is often referential. It opens by quoting the famous snare drum line from Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra,” but played on the bass drum, followed in turn by each of the snare drums, until the entire piece evolves into a traditional-sounding “tattoo” of drumming rudiments (in homage to former Atlanta Symphony principal percussionist Jack Bell). Later references include Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” (played with wire brushes) and, at the end, military “Three Camps” patterns to bring the piece to a rousing close.

Most remarkable is that this was the first time the Chix have performed publicly as a group in two years. Other areas of the musicians’ lives, Hunt says, intervened in the interim. But the musical chemistry among these four women is evident, and this phoenix-like revival of the Chix bodes well for their future

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