Percussionist Neeraj Mehta at UWM
Every percussion instrument imaginable filled the stage at the UWM Zelazo Center on Oct. 25, as hometown percussionist Neeraj Mehta returned to share his experience after a Fulbright Fellowship year at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. Mehta received his bachelor’s degree at UW-Madison and is at work on his PhD at the University of Michigan, where he directs the Michigan World Percussion ensemble.
Per Nørgaard’s Isternia is meant to evoke “the timeless peace that emitted from the shimmering white sculptured steps” on a small Greek island. Nørgaard’s souvenir from Greece is Mehta’s souvenir from Denmark. Mehta’s touch danced lightly on the bars of the vibraphone and brought a vision to life in angular rhythms that suggest the irregular steps of an island village.
UWM’s Carl Storniolo and Mehta faced off from separate drum sets in Wayne Siegel’s 42nd Street Rondo. Imagine a New York street scene with competing open-air drummers, tossing open-ended riffs back and forth. This is conservative, bravura music. Despite some random elements, this work seemed too coordinated, with identically spaced measures. A real New York street corner throbs with a cacophony of independent sounds.
Mehta closed with Danish composer Ole Buck’s Rejang, which calls for a battery of Western and Eastern instruments. The thud of a floor tom drum and the edginess of a snare drum work with the higher pitches of cymbals, gong chimes, bells, wood blocks and varieties of wood chimes. A more intense Western percussive beat gives way eventually to contemplative sounds drawn from small pieces of wood. Long, tassled cords reached over the audience to the back of the house, so Mehta could operate them from the stage. In one charming moment, the clatter of several dozen bamboo tubes evoked the sound of a hundred sparrows leaving a bush.