Nexus and the Iris Chamber Orchestra conducted by Michael Stern

As Garry Kvistad, one of the members of the percussion quintet Nexus, reminded me at the release party for this new Ellen Taaffe Zwilich disc on Naxos, there is no such thing as a percussion instrument with an indeterminate pitch. Every instrument has a pitch, but most composers who write for percussion ignore this and accept whatever the pitch of the percussion instrument used in a performance happens to be. Not so, says Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, who worked meticulously with Nexus’s extensive instrumentarium of percussion instruments from around the world. But none of these instruments are used for effect or to conjure some sort of tourist exoticism. Rather, Zwilich emphasized the pitch capabilities of a family of instruments not usually treated as melodic and created a piece where every resulting pitch is carefully worked out. The result is one of the most melodious and harmonious of percussion concertos and one of Zwilich’s most exciting compositions to date. I was thrilled that this remarkable piece, which is also very exciting to watch, was part of NewMusicBox’s first-ever Webcast of an orchestral concert a little over a year ago, but I’m even more thrilled that it’s finally available on CD. Now if only I could hear it live. Wherever you are, demand that your local orchestra programs this blockbuster piece!