Eri Isomura

Marimba · Percussion · Piano

Backyard Concert Series  

August 7-8, 2020

Eri Isomura, marimba

Patty Ryan, cello

April Kim, piano


George Rochberg - Ricordanza for cello and piano (1972)

1972 was a pivotal year for George Rochberg. In the aftermath of the death of his son from a brain tumor in 1961, Rochberg found composing in serialism was no longer satisfactory to communicate the spectrum of emotions. In a controversial move, he returned to tonal composition for the remainder of his life, shocking the music community with the premiere of his Third String Quartet in May 1972. The Ricordanza premiered shortly afterward in October 1972 as a tribute to the death of his nephew, Robert Rochberg, of non-hodgkin's lymphoma at a young age, similar to his son. The piece, written as a “soliloquy for cello and piano,” draws influence from Brahms Piano Intermezzi, Beethoven Cello Sonata No. 4, and Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 where both cello and piano play equal roles, though the piece is uniquely Rochberg’s style in creating original tonal music that would appropriate the masters of classical composition. 

— notes by Patty Ryan

Ludwig van Beethoven - 7 Variations on a Theme from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” adapted for cello and marimba

A master of the variation form, Beethoven wrote more than a dozen variation sets between 1793 and 1801, during his early compositional period. Piano variations were popular among the Viennese public, and Beethoven delivered both works for piano alone and for piano with a string instrument. His contributions to the cello repertoire during this time period are also significant. Previously relegated to the role of continuo, the cello had recently been on the rise as a virtuoso solo instrument, and in 1796 Beethoven wrote the two op. 5 cello sonatas, among the first to have fully written-out parts for both instruments, and practically unprecedented in their scale, ambition, and sonority.


The Variations WoO 46, written in 1801 and published the next year, are a happy marriage of these two compositional interests. The charm of the work is at least partly attributable to the composer of the theme, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Excerpted from the first act of his Singspiel Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute, 1791), “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen” (In men who feel love) is a duet in which Pamina, the princess, and Papageno, the birdcatcher, consider the noble and divine nature of unity in love. Beethoven takes the pastoral bent of the original 6/8 meter and transforms it into a trellis for rhythmic imitation (variation 1), virtuosic display (variation 2), noble contemplation (variation 3), melancholic lyricism (variation 4), and comedic jest (variation 5). The sixth variation breaks the compound-meter framework to present an Adagio in 4/4, before all solemnity is abandoned in the jocund and dance-like final variation.

— notes by Frances Lee


Bruce Broughton - “Zahir” and “Doppelgänger” from Five Short Stories for Marimba and Piano

“From a story by Borges, the zahir is an object that is unforgettable. In the Borges story, the zahir was a coin. In this piece, the zahir is the opening four chords, from which the rest of the piece cannot wrest itself.”

The Doppelgänger (literally “double goer” in German) is one’s double, another version of oneself. Though the idea has in mythology and psychology certain negative or whimsical associations, the Doppelgänger presented here is another version of the same thing, one thing played in different ways by two instruments simultaneously, each independent of, but similar to, the other.”


Margaret Bonds - Troubled Water for piano solo

Margaret Bonds was a prolific composer and phenomenal pianist during the 20th century. She attended Northwestern University and the Juilliard School, and was the first African American to perform as a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. As a composer, she wrote for voice, choir, solo piano, orchestra, and chamber ensemble. She frequently collaborated with American poet Langston Hughes. Additionally, one of her first composition and piano teachers was composer Florence Price, another prominent African American composer. Troubled Water for solo piano is a piece based on the spiritual Wade in the Water. Through the various tides and waves of this piece, Troubled Water displays Bonds’ clever, lyrical, and virtuosic writing. 

Bartok Romanian Folk Dances Adapted for cello and marimba (1915)

A pioneer of ethnomusicology, Bartok began recording and collecting folk songs on a phonograph of the communities in the Carpathian Basin, or central and eastern Europe. He began to incorporate these folk melodies into his compositions and his Romanian Folk Dances are no exception. Based on seven Romanian songs from Transylvania, the six movements are representative of all parts of modern day Romania (two folk songs are combined in the final movement.) Originally written as a suite of short piano pieces, the composition gained popularity and was orchestrated in 1917 for small ensemble by Bartok himself. It has also been adapted for many other instrumentations since, ranging from string orchestra, violin and piano, string quartet, and beyond, and continues to be a celebrated work of Bartok’s canon. 

— notes by Patty Ryan

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Elwyn Alexander Fraser Jr - Phoenix Aflight for cello and marimba (2019)

Phoenix Aflight was written in dedication to Elwyn’s fiancée, Lynnette Simpson- now wife, as of this past Sunday!

 Photo by Kei Fuchigami.

©️ Eri Isomura 2020