With enough music magic being generated at the Frederick Loewe Theater to make Harry Potter and his mates jealous, NYU Steel proceeded to turn the capacity audience into life long “Pan Jumbies.”
A long time ago the legendary drummer Max Roach said that the steelpan is a magical instrument. And under the directive of Dr. Jonathan Haas and leadership of Josh Quillen the prestigious NYU percussion studies program continue to show why.
When Steel Talks has covered the NYU Steel annual year-ending Spring Concert for several years now. And honestly it never gets old. Always fresh, entertaining, revolutionary and enlightening. Presenting something old, something modern, something new, something futuristic or even galactic (Mars, the Bringer of War), as we would soon learn from this year’s show - is the norm.
For all who were present it was an experience. Regardless of your length of involvement with the steelpan instrument, music and culture - newbie to veteran panist - there was something that was going to make you go “Now, that’s interesting.” Moreover, there was something that was going to touch your soul musically. Yes, indeed something magical. A vehicle for new music.
The doors opened a little after 7:30 p.m. to let the sizable crowd lined up outside, into the Frederick Loewe Theatre on the NYU campus. Within minutes the theatre reflected near-capacity - not too long after to be completely filled on this Saturday May 11 evening to standing room only.
Capacity audience in attendance for NYU Steel’s 2019 Spring Concert
This year’s Spring Concert featured two Doctors making some serious house-calls with their featured musical showcases. Beyond their stellar performances they are both consequential and game-changing characters in the history of Pan.
Dr. Jonathan Haas lent his award-winning, world-class timpani talent to the world premiere of a double timpani concerto for Steelband by Zach Gulaboff Davis - featuring Dr. Jonathan Haas and Jeff Kautz - timpani. As NYU Steel music director Josh Quillen pointed out, NYU not only provides a platform for developing artist and performance skills with the steelpan instrument - it also provides a creative and nurturing environment for the development of new music for the steelpan instrument and steel orchestra.
Dr. Jonathan Haas, right and Jeff Kautz, center - featured on timpani for NYU Steel’s 2019 Spring Concert
And of course Dr. Haas is also the esteemed director of percussion studies at NYU. The presence of the steelband at NYU is his vision. All percussion majors are required to participate in the steelband at this prestigious university.
Similarly, the world-renowned Dr. Mia Gormandy-Benjamin from the University of Trinidad and Tobago provided immeasurable know-how and knowledge to the NYU Steel concert-performing students and concertgoers’ experiences, through her extraordinary performing, composing, arranging and conducting capabilities. She led NYU Steel through a wide variety of challenging performance materials that will impact profoundly on these students as they move forward.
An impressive body of work indeed...
Dr. Mia Gormandy-Benjamin at work with NYU Steel
Having these two music giants performing with the students is part of a recurring experience for NYU Steel students - that is, rubbing shoulders with greatness continuously. Always ground-breaking and authentic.
And as has become customary in recent years at NYU Steel’s Spring concerts, a steel orchestra from Brooklyn, New York was featured. Brooklyn has the largest gathering of steelbands and steelpan music aficionados outside of Trinidad and Tobago - the birthplace of the steelpan instrument. This year it was CASYM Steel Orchestra who demonstrated through its young musicians how essential and deeply-rooted the Pan and music are embedded in community and culture.
CASYM Steel Orchestra at NYU Steel’s 2019 Spring Concert
Again as in years prior NYU Steel director Josh Quillen asks the traditional question: “How many of you are seeing the steelpan for the first time?” This year there were even less than we ever remembered. On and off the stage NYU Steel is a front-runner in popularizing the steel orchestra, music and culture.
Josh Quillen addresses the audience at NYU Steel’s 2019 Spring Concert at the Frederick Loewe Theatre
NYU Steel has established a culture of pan music excellence that has become an integral part of the prestigious NYU Percussion Program. The Program is absolutely one of the best in the world at producing well-rounded and exceptional cultured music professionals.
The show’s performances made people in the audience clap, dance, sing and marvel. And in between there was a heavy dose of inspiration and education on all levels.
The songs chosen for this year’s concert were all special in their own way as they provided a worldly opportunity for the show attendees and musicians to connect, to reflect, celebrate and explore the future through music and Pan.
In addition, through the joy the performing musicians displayed and the appreciation displayed by the audience - if there were any lingering questions or doubt as to “Why do they do this?” - they were answered.
The music was so infectious that the NYU ushers could barely contain themselves as they gave new meaning to dancing in the aisles (and lobby).
Ushers dancing away to the strains of steel in the lobby during the concert in the auditorium
Kudos to Josh Quillen, music director of the orchestra taking another class of NYU Steel from “Crayons to Perfume.”
Mia Gormandy-Benjamin is an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT). A native of Trinidad and Tobago, Mia received a Bachelor of Music degree (2009) and a Master of Music degree (2011) in steelpan performance from Northern Illinois University (NIU). She then received a second Master of Music degree (2013) and a Doctor of Philosophy degree (2017) in musicology from Florida State University (FSU). Her doctoral research focused on the history and performance practices of steelpan musicians in Japan.
Mia has performed in several different countries around the world including Austria, Australia, England, Japan, the United States, Canada, and countries of the Caribbean. She has also performed with many world-renowned artists such as 11-time Grammy award winner Paquito D’Rivera. In 2008, she became the first panist to win the NIU Concerto Competition. Mia guest starred at several American university steelbands including University of Akron Steel Drum Band and Homboldt State University Calypso Band. Several different committees awarded her over the years including the Laventille Steelband Festival Foundation, the Port-of-Spain City Corporation, Tau Beta Sigma, and Gamma Nu of Kappa Kappa Psi. She was also awarded “One of NIU’s Most Outstanding Women of the Year 2011.” Mia has been the recipient of several grants including the Howard Mayer Brown Fellowship presented by the American Musicological Society and the Carol Krebs Research Fellow Award granted by Florida State University. She is a long-time member of the renowned Massy Trinidad All Stars where she serves as a performer, transcriber, conductor, and educator. Some of her transcription works for steelpan include Magnificent Seven, theme from Star Wars, and Vivaldi’s “Winter” from Four Seasons. Mia is the co-founder of the global steelpan project called the Virtual Steelband where 22 countries with over 300 panists are registered with the organization.
CASYM Steel Orchestra performs at NYU Steel’s 2019 Spring Concert
CASYM Steel Orchestra performs the rhythms and sounds of the steel drum that are an integral part of the rich cultural heritage of the Caribbean Islands of Trinidad and Tobago. CASYM has performed with Lionel Hampton, the Harlem Boys Choir, the Mighty Sparrow, and David Rudder.
Jonathan Haas performs at NYU Steel’s 2019 Spring Concert
Jonathan Haas is known worldwide as a solo artist, orchestral timpanist, percussionist, conductor, teacher, clinician, and entrepreneur.
He has garnered international acclaim for his performances of the Philip Glass Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra, which he commissioned and has performed seventy times around the world with orchestras including the Chicago Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, Sydney Symphony, San Francisco Ballet, BBC, Radio France, Istanbul Philharmonic, Prague Symphony, Bergen Philharmonic, Latvian National Orchestra, Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional of Mexico City, and many others.
Jonathan is the principal percussionist of the American Symphony, principal timpanist of the Aspen Chamber Orchestra, and percussionist of the American Composers Orchestra. He made his professional conducting début for Amazon Prime/Jet Blue Mozart In The Jungle video initiative.
Haas is the President of Gemini Music Productions, the largest employer of musicians in New York, contracting musicians for Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, Carnegie Hall’s New York Pops, the Emmy Award-winning All Star Orchestra, Westchester Philharmonic, and the Little Orchestra Society.
Haas is a Professor of Music and Co-Director of the NYU Orchestral Program, Director of Instrumental Performance, Director of the NYU Percussion Program, conductor of the NYU Contemporary Music and Percussion Ensembles, faculty/artist of the Juilliard Pre-College percussion studio, and conductor of the JPC Percussion Ensemble. He is an artist-faculty member at the Aspen Music Festival and School, where he conducts the Aspen Percussion Ensemble.
Haas has performed and recorded with Emerson Lake & Palmer, Aerosmith, the Grammy Award-winning Zappa’s Universe, and many other innovative contemporary artists, commercial products, and movie sound tracks. In his quest to showcase the timpani in unusual musical settings, Haas is known for his legendary Hot Jazz Timpani performances, highlighting an unusual instrumental combination with his 9-piece Latin/Jazz ensemble, Johnny H. and the Prisoners of Swing.
Jeffrey Kautz performs at NYU Steel’s 2019 Spring Concert
Timpanist Jeffrey Kautz is very passionate and moved by the timpani. His start with the timpani began when he attended the Manhattan School of Music Precollege Program in classical percussion from 2011-2013 and studied under Chris Nappi and Jeff Kraus. He attended the NYSSSA School of Orchestral Studies in the summer of 2012 as the Principal Timpanist studying timpani with Don Liuzzi from the Philadelphia Orchestra and was awarded the Dean L Harrington Scholarship for excellence in percussion. Jeffrey attended the Philadelphia International Music Festival in the summer of 2015 as a timpani student under Don Liuzzi and Scott Robinson. At the festival, he was the winner of the college division of the concerto competition performing the 1st Movement of William Kraft’s Timpani Concerto #1. He also attended the Prague Summer Nights Music Festival as Principal Timpanist in the summer of 2018 and was a timpani student of Michael Kroutil, Principal Timpanist of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.
Jeffrey graduated from Mannes School of Music in 2017 with a Bachelor of Music Degree with Honors in Percussion Performance. He also was the recipient of the Mannes Orchestral Performance Award and was the winner of the 2017 Mannes Concerto Competition and performed Michael Daugherty’s Raise the Roof with the Mannes Orchestra as solo timpanist. During his years at Mannes, Jeffrey worked with various composers, conductors, and ensembles and performed over 100 concerts in orchestral, chamber, and solo works. Jeffrey is currently Principal Timpanist of the New Jersey Sinfonietta, Amore Opera, and the Apotheosis Opera Orchestra. He also was Former Principal Timpanist of the Mannes Community Orchestra, New Generation Symphony Orchestra, and the International Chamber Orchestra of America.
Jeffrey is currently a 2nd year graduate student at NYU Steinhardt studying timpani with Jonathan Haas and will be graduating in May 2019 with a Master of Music degree in Instrumental Performance. Accomplishments at NYU include: 1st Place in the New York International Percussion Competition on timpani only and performed at the CUNY Graduate Center in August of 2018. Mr. Kautz also performed as timpanist at the University of Michigan for the Solo and Chamber Timpanist’s Initiative Call for Scores Showcase performing Warzone by Alexander Singer and Robert McClure in March of 2018.
Jeffrey is grateful and very excited to be featured with Jonathan Haas as timpani soloists with the NYU Steel Band performing the world premiere of Zach Gulaboff Davis’s Deceptive Imitations with the NYU Steel Band. He wants to thank all of his family and friends from NYU for their love and support.
Josh Quillen - NYU Steel 2019
Josh Quillen has forged a unique identity in the contemporary music world as all-around percussionist, expert steel drum performer (lauded as “softly sophisticated” by the New York Times), and composer. His collaborations with other composers frequently incorporate the steel drums as a core element.
A member of the acclaimed ensemble Sō Percussion since 2006, Josh has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Lincoln Center Festival, Stanford Lively Arts, and dozens of other venues in the United States. In that time, Sō Percussion has toured Russia, Spain, Australia, Italy, Germany, and Scotland. He has had the opportunity to work closely with Steve Reich, Steve Mackey, Paul Lansky, David Lang, Matmos, Dan Deacon, and many others.
Josh started performing on the steel drums at Dover High School in Ohio, an interest that continued at the University of Akron, where Dr. Larry Snider founded one of the first collegiate steel bands in the United States. He traveled to Trinidad & Tobago in 2002, performing with the “Phase II Pan Groove” ensemble under Len “Boogsie” Sharpe. This interest in the traditional steel drum music of Trinidad ran in parallel with Josh’s education in western music, first at Akron, and then at the Yale School of Music with marimba soloist Robert Van Sice, where he received his Masters degree in 2006.
These parallel interests led Josh to break ground in the use of the steel drums in contemporary classical music. To date, he has commissioned over a dozen pieces for steel drums from composers such as Stuart Saunders Smith, Roger Zahab, Dan Trueman, and Paul Lansky. In 2010, Steven Mackey’s quartet It Is Time – commissioned for Sō Percussion by Carnegie Hall and Chamber Music America – featured Josh on a new microtonal lead pan in its Carnegie Hall premiere, receiving rave reviews in the New York Times. He’s also had the honor to drill the Brooklyn Steel Orchestra (New York) and Skiffle Bunch Steel Orchestra (Trinidad) for conferences in steel pan and the Panorama competition during carnival in Trinidad and Tobago.
Josh’s compositions for Sō Percussion are featured in Imaginary City, an evening length work that appeared on the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 2009 Next Wave Festival, as well as the site-specific Music for Trains in Southern Vermont. Other ensembles to play his pieces and arrangements include Matmos, PLork, The Janus Trio, Adele Meyers and Dancers, The University of Akron Steel Band, and the New York University Steel Band. He’s recently performed in a staged work by Ain Gordon and himself called “Radicals in Miniature,” telling the stories of influential people who are lost to the pre-internet age.
An avid educator, Josh is a performer-in-residence at Princeton University with Sō Percussion, as well as codirector of the Sō Percussion Summer Institute, an intensive workshop for college-aged percussionists on the campus of Princeton University. He is in his 14th year as the director of the New York University Steel Band.
NYU Steel, under the direction of Josh Quillen, emphasizes an artistically and culturally diverse array of performance styles that break with traditional boundaries surrounding the esoteric genre of steel pan music. The ensemble seeks to create a bond between artist and audience that warrants an environment of creativity and community.
With a hunger for innovation and desire to explore all the possibilities of steel pan music, NYU Steel is a unique ensemble drawing from the rich cultural sounds of the Caribbean while incorporating the works of prominent composers such as Philip Glass, in order to gain the instrument prominence on the world stage. As part of a global initiative instituted in collaboration with New York University, NYU Steel is constantly pursuing ways to reach audiences of an international scope, striving to cultivate a niche on the world stage. At the same time, the group continues to nurture relationships with the local community, intent on becoming a leader in education, performance, and creativity.
Danielle Chan, Yang Chen, Austin Choi, Brandi Collier, Tyler Frye, Nicholas Gigante, Hayley Greco, Hanhan Jiang, Aedan Johnston, Laela Jones, Jeffrey Kautz, Jimmy Kavetas, Yaz Lancaster, Connie Li, Christian Melhado, May Meyer, Christopher O’Leary, Xiaoxu Liu, Sarian Sankoh, Jared Shaw, Miranda Siffer, Luciano Valdes, Declan Zhang
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