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Composed: 2008
Length: c. 35 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, oboe, 2 clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, 4 horns (= Wagner tubas), 2 trumpets, 4 trombones, 2 tubas, timpani, percussion (wood blocks, sleigh bells, drum, bass drum, cymbals, suspended cymbal, and tam-tam), celesta, 2 harps, strings, and solo percussion (wood blocks, glass chimes, bamboo chimes, cabaza, hand drums, darabuka, bass drums, crotales, xylophones, marimbas, flexatones, triangles, suspended cymbals, drums, tambourine, agogo, and Javanese gongs)
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances

Gustavo Dudamel led the Gothenburg Symphony in the world premiere of Gubaidulina’s Glorious Percussion in September 2008. The experience was so successful – with the work being performed in another six cities so far – that the international quintet of percussionists who were the soloists in the premiere has formed an ensemble under the name Glorious Percussion.

Gubaidulina’s orchestra for this concerted work is not unusually large, but it does employ more brass players and fewer woodwinds than normal. It also has its own percussion complement, but surrounding it on all sides are the instruments of the solo ensemble, with five bass drums out front.

“Two special characteristics distinguish this work from my previous works,” the composer writes. “A: The central theme here is the agreement of the sounding intervals with their difference tones. The structure of the form then results from this as well: the sound movement thrice comes to a standstill. Before this static background, only the respective pulsation caused by the intervals of the previous chord remains. Such episodes appear at particular structural points, thus subjecting the form to the law of the Golden Section.

“B: The solo percussionists have seven episodes in this work in which they step before the orchestra and improvise without a fixed note-text. This is more or less a reminiscence of a performance practice from a time during which only an oral culture existed.”

The score is an astonishing mix of contrasting – even contradictory – elements: earthy and ethereal, mathematically measured and freely improvised. There is a complementary sense of kinetic energy and ritual mystery in both the performance process and the sonic results. You do not have to be able to parse the “agreement of the sounding intervals with their difference tones” to appreciate the distinctive spectral sheen on Gubaidulina’s chords, or identify the difference between a darabuka (Middle Eastern goblet drum) and an agogo (Yoruban single or double bells) to revel in the colors she produces from the percussion array.

— John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.