Percussion music is more than creating intense rhythmic sound waves. It can be sweet, emotional, and most of all, creative.
Percussionist Yu Le wants to convey this idea to the public, especially to those who only consider percussion as drums and gongs. In fact, there are dozens of orchestral instruments that are categorized into the percussion family, including piano, drums, cymbals, marimba, tambourine, celesta, chimes, and triangle.
As one of China’s most promising young percussionists, Yu performed the Shanghai Grand Theater’s first percussion recital last week, accompanied by his pianist friend Liu Jiren.
In addition to playing the drums, Yu brought on stage a marimba, vibraphone, piano, barre chimes and a waterphone. The program ranged from traditional and electronic music to tango and even rap.
“I want to break the stereotype of percussion music for the public,” Yu told the Shanghai Daily. “The drum is just one side. I want to showcase the color and richness of more percussion instruments in the programs. “
The opening piece, titled “Darkness to Light,” began with Yu playing a water phone – an instrument known for creating ethereal sounds often heard in movie soundtracks. He then played on drums, standing instead of sitting as drummers usually do. He was accompanied by Liu on the piano.
After an atmospheric first half, the second half of the program was lighter and brighter, Yu switching from drums to vibraphone.
In the piece “Everybody Talk about What” – composed by another musical friend, Julie Spencer – Yu played the marimba, while rapping in English and Chinese.
“Innovation is highly regarded by percussionists,” said Yu. “New styles of performance and cross-exploration have emerged over the past three decades. Percussionists are fortunate to have been born at this time.
He said he thinks percussion music is getting more public attention, especially from a younger generation plugged into fast-moving pop culture.
“The fast and fluid rhythm of percussion instruments corresponds to the modern era,” he said. “Modern percussion composers have created many avant-garde works, which appeal to young people in terms of content and playing methods.”
Interactive sessions are always included in Yu’s recitals. During the Shanghai concert, he and Liu led the audience in an applause routine to show how two different rhythmic patterns end up merging into one.
“I always want every attendee at one of my concerts to be a part of the show instead of just watching and listening,” Yu said. “The rhythm is in everyone’s body.”
Yu started learning percussion at the age of 14, when he saw two children playing drums on television in 2000.
“Their performance was so cool that I was immediately taken by the drums and asked my parents to buy me a set,” said Yu. “After a year of learning, I asked my parents if the percussions were only for the drums. My father, a singer, then introduced me to Liu Yaguang, a high school teacher at the Xi’an Conservatory of Music. It broadened my vision of the percussion world.
Yu went to the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester to continue his education at age 18. His mentors included Japanese composer and famous marimba player Keiko Abe, as well as Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie. In 2013, he received the college’s first international solo percussion artist diploma.
As a chamber musician and concerto soloist, he has performed with troupes such as the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico, the Beijing Symphony Orchestra and the Manchester Camerata. The 35-year-old is now Assistant Director of Percussion at the Royal Northern College of Music.
Abe, who is now 84, has been one of the main contributors to the development of the marimba in terms of technique and repertoire. With Yamaha Corp, she developed the modern five-octave concert marimba.
“Abe enjoys playing music with the students more than teaching,” said Yu. “She has always encouraged us to find new ideas and inspiration through improvised collaborations.”
Yu’s other mentor, Glennie, has been his idol since childhood. Deaf since the age of 12, she was the first western percussion soloist. She regularly plays barefoot to, as she says, better feel the music.
“Glennie is a master at using space and creating a sound field to engage audiences,” Yu said. “She doesn’t hear music, but feels it with her body. She believes musicians should make the music “feel” to the audience instead of just hearing it. “
Under Glennie’s influence, Yu changes his playstyle for different locations.
“The Grand Theater has a big hall, so I need thicker sticks to create better sound and more dynamic movements when performing on stage,” said Yu.
Among all the percussion instruments, Yu favors the marimba.
“It has melody, and therefore mood,” Yu said. “The marimba is like a changing child. It can be cute and charming, but also harsh and intractable – just like me. “
He added: “It’s a shame that the marimba was born late and missed the era of great composers like Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. There haven’t been many classical works composed for marimba. But playing Bach’s works with the marimba is the desire of every percussionist.
Other marimba works featured in the Shanghai recital were Abe’s “Prism Rhapsody” and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence”, which was adapted for marimba by Yu. The concert ended with “Libertango” »By Piazzolla, which has been adapted into a concerto for marimba and piano.