Conductor Eckart Preu’s Spokane Symphony is not at the level of their Seattle peers, but on this night they boasted a soloist who is world class. The group performed alongside world-renowned percussionist Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic, playing his own composition: Concerto No. 2 for Marimba. After opening the concert with Bedrich Smetana’s “From Bohemia’s Forests and Meadows” from Ma vlast, a marimba was moved to center stage and Zivkovic emerged from behind the curtains to the applause of a nearly sold out Fox Theater crowd.
Nebojsa Zivkovic has been known as a performer and composer for the last two decades. This combination is rare, harkening back to the greats of the 19th century and earlier. The percussionist studied in Mannheim and Stuttgart, Germany, known as the epicenter of the four movement symphony form. Zivkovic has performed and taught worldwide, playing mainly his own compositions such as Ilijas, Ultimatum1, and Trio per unno, all of which have become standards of percussion literature. As a percussion major, I was eager to see Zivkovic perform in person and was not disappointed.
Marimba Concerto No. 2, Op. 25 is a programmatic composition that chronicles the marimba’s initiation into the realm of orchestral music as an instrument worthy of its own concerto. It is in standard three movement concerto form; the first movement, entitled “Introduction, Initiation of the Wood”, is fast and presents a three note motive that will be repeated later in the piece in various forms. The orchestra and soloist converse and Zivkovic shows his incredible dexterity as he is able to move around the instrument in a rapid and expressive fashion. Watching his full five octave flourishes juxtaposed with the power of the full orchestra was the highlight of the night. The second movement, called “Notturno”, breaks from the programmatic aspect of the concerto. The movement is slow and the marimba trades solos with other members of the orchestra. The third movement features a rhapsodic cadenza for the soloist and concludes with a development of the initial melodic theme.
Zivkovic exudes confidence and intensity. When standing behind the marimba, he resembles an eager painter standing, easel and brush in hand, ready to shape his canvas into something beautiful. He is equal parts Pollock and Caravaggio, presenting a scattered aural assault of color at times while at others showcasing a beautiful clarity and restraint. He has a control over his instrument and his composition that translates to a captivation of the audience eagerly awaiting his next strike. He is a compelling and enigmatic personality and a mammoth player. On this night, he was a sight and sound to behold.
The Symphony and Zivkovic drew and extreme amount of excitement to Spokane’s Fox Theater. The theater, an old art deco building that closer resembles Seattle’s Moore Theater as opposed to Benaroya Hall, was an unusual but fun place to see a symphonic concert. The venue and its patrons stand in stark contrast to the sleeker and snootier Benaroya stage and audience and I got a less formal, more familial sense from this concert than those that I have attended at Benaroya in the past. With that said, what stood out about this performance was the soloist. Nebojsa Zivkovic is the premier artist of an instrument family in percussion that has been oft maligned and long neglected as one that is subservient to the strings and brass. With this concerto and this performance, Zivkovic inserts himself and his instrument as the melodic focal point and does so convincingly, with aplomb and artistry that is equal to that of the great performers. A performance such as this stretches the minds of those who have decided that percussion is nothing but a background, expanding on the musical tradition of the last several centuries with an instrument that is not played with bows or tongues but with mallets. There is something primal and transcendent about percussion, but as Zivkovic shows the percussive medium is not simply grounded as a rhythmic backbone – it can take center stage as well.