Most composers who compose for Marimba are Marimba players or have studied percussion. You are an exception. Your first Marimba piece is from 1997. How did you get the idea to write for a relatively unknown instrument such as the Marimba?
I am a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) winner for composition and studied composition at the University of Toronto. Marimba is a standard instrument in the percussion division. I have written (much earlier than 1997) for the Marimba but in orchestral works.
Steve Reich doesn't play Marimba but has written successfully for Marimba. However it is true that most Marimba pieces have been written by Marimba players. Sometimes this can be a disadvantage although there are successful pieces written by Marimba players.
Marimba composers who write only for Marimba have the advantage that the pieces will be technically 'marimba-oriented'but they may suffer in the general conceptual side of composition, because a composer should write for all instruments. In doing so, the composer gains more experience and has a broader background that one might not have, if one composes only marimba pieces.
As an example imagine if J. S. Bach had only composed for the Organ or Cembalo. He probably wouldn't be the great composer we know today. A composer like Chopin, who only wrote for Piano, is an exception.
When I compose for Marimba I hear strings, electronics, woodwinds and not just Marimba. I have all the different colours of sounds and electronics on my mind.
Another area is form. I have written pieces (Requiem, Stage works) that are more than 2 hours in length. This requires another viewpoint that you can't get if you compose only pieces that are, let's say... under 20 minutes. Example: The work "Just One World" (Soprano, 2 Marimbas) would have been difficult to compose had I not had the experience of writing larger works. Perhaps this is why it is getting popular. Katarazyna Mycka said about "Just One World": "It is a symphony for two Marimbas."
I believe that had I only composed Marimba pieces "Just One World" might not have been as colourful as it finally was.
"Aurora Borealis" (your first piece) has found a place in the Marimba Repertoire. Despite this success, there followed a break of 5-6 years before you wrote another piece for Marimba. Why this?
I think most composers who compose for different instruments generally don't write one piece after the other just for one instrument except for a series of pieces. I composed other pieces (a String Quartet, Orchestral Overture, different Songs and Instrumental pieces). For example, I have written some 18 pieces for piano, but over a time-span of, let's say, 25 years. But never one a year. There was a time-span of fifteen years within those twenty-five where I didn't write any piano pieces.
In the last years you have composed more for Marimba. I notice that your Marimba pieces are dedicated to Katarazyna Mycka, Momoko Kamiya and Bogdan Bacanu. Were these pieces commissions or were they inspired from the brilliance of these artists?
All the works for Marimba were commissions. There was a period of 2 or 3 years between "Aurora Borealis" and "Just One World". I think this was natural but it also took a few years for "Aurora Borealis" to get known in the Marimba community.
As soon as that happened, I recieved the commission from Momoko Kamiya to do "Just One World". A year after that, Bogdan Bacanu heard the European premiere of that piece in Poland (Katarazyna Mycka and Momoko Kamiya) and was impressed with the music.
A few months later Bogdan asked me to write a concerto for Marimba ("Rhythms of Life"). This piece can be played as a solo work or as a concerto with Strings and Percussion. How it came to this was somewhat unusual. I had said to Bogdan that "the chances of having a new concerto for Marimba that would be performed was too small to do a big piece." He said: "Then write it as a solo work with optional orchestra."
At first, I thought this was impossible. In a solo work, the soloist plays from beginning to end basta! But in a concerto, there are interludes for the orchestra a certain play between accompaniment and soloist. But I am always open for a challenge.
It took a great deal of thought but eventually the work was finished. A half year later, we premiered the piece with the Bucharest Radio Orchestra and a month later, we recorded it in Salzburg with the Salzburger Solisten. Bogdan did two recordings an orchetra version and a solo version. I like both and they are equal in their expressive quality, but for me, the solo version is a piece of history... as if it was Glenn Gould playing Bach. Bogdan performed the solo version on the CD "True Colours"... for me, a masterpiece of interpretation.
For the CD "Rhythms of Life", Bogdan invited Momoko to play "Just One World". Bogdan said: "We have "Rhythms of Life" and "Just One World", so if you write something else for 2 Marimbas and Soprano, well put it on the album."
This is how "Love Songs" was composed almost overnight, but several of the songs were from the ballet "Book of Dreams" so it went rather quickly. This is also how the piece "True Colours" was composed a work for Bogdan's CD of the same name.
Really this is the way I like to compose quickly and almost instantly realized. This is why there are more Marimba pieces of late. It has to do basically with Bogdan Bacanu who asked me to compose more for his own recordings.
The piece "Preludes, Themes & Dance" was not commissioned but was a gift to Momoko Kamiya for doing so much for my music and especially for her work in promoting the piece "Just One World" which she commissioned. She is an amazing artist absolutely tireless in her efforts for the Marimba. I have much to thank her for!
Can you tell us on which CD Productions your works have been played?
Bogdan Bacanu just recorded "Aurora Borealis" (a few weeks ago). That is the third CD from Bogdan in which he plays my works. The CDs are "Rhythms of Life", "True Colours" and now "Aurora Borealis" all on the Label Classic Concert Records (www.ClassicConcert.com). Momoko Kamiya did the first recording of "Just One World" on the CD "Marimba Virtuoso" with the Label Philips Universal Classics and Jazz. Katarazyna Mycka recorded the first CD of "Aurora Borealis" ("Marimba Dance" on the Label Audite).
But there are other recordings, "World Trio" (Swiss) did a beautiful DVD demo recording with excerpts of "Just One World" (view this on www.myspace.com/worldtrio)... check it out... it's great.
You compose for all instruments. But what meaning does the Marimba have for you as a composer?
Well, when I hear artists like Kaska, Momoko and Bogdan do my works, it is always special but there are many other marimba artists who I have heard and they do it their own way, and it's another vision all excellent.
Why do I say this? I think the Marimba has a meaning for me that is linked to those personalities I have had the privilege to work with. On the other hand, the Marimba is a modern instrument the King of the Percussion, if you may. We know that the whole are of Percussion has grown in importance expecially in composition of the 20th century.
I have been to several Marimba festivals and have gotten to know many players and students from around the world. I think the Marimba community is open and uncomplicated youthful and modern. I like that because actually it is much different than the traditional classical music scene which actually has become somewhat dusty and old eventhough the classical scene would deny this.
The world of Marimba has more potential. So I would say this: You don't have to always look to the classical world for inspiration. Create your own world and your public will honour you.
What can we (Marimba performers and enthusiasts) expect from the composer John Thrower in the future?
I can imagine composing other works for Marimba. But then something unusual like "Just One World"... something special. This means perhaps to create a different combination of instruments with Marimba and to think more about another way to make the instrument (through form and composition) more accessible to a broader public.
Thank you for this Interview!
All the above-named works of the composer (except "Aurora Borealis" / Norsk) are available from www.JohnThrowerMusic.com