Marimbist enthrals at Richmond House

FULL REPERTOIRE: Magdalena de Vries shows her flair on four-mallet marimba at Classics at the Castle last Saturday. Picture: JON HOUZET
FULL REPERTOIRE: Magdalena de Vries shows her flair on four-mallet marimba at Classics at the Castle last Saturday. Picture: JON HOUZET

IT was a different kind of concert, but nonetheless eminently enjoyable for all who attended Marimba on the Map at Richmond House last Saturday night. Introducing classical marimbist Magdalena de Vries, Classics at the Castle host, Sue Gordon, said the marimba played by De Vries set the record for the largest instrument played at the Richmond House Music Room venue. And the contrast was made more apparent because De Vries is a petite woman.

But she plays her instrument with such passion and energy, in mostly four-mallet grip, enthralling the audience with her performance of classical compositions cleverly adapted for marimba, as well as some pieces specifically written for the instrument. De Vries said the title of her concert was about putting the instrument on the map. “It’s a relatively new addition as a solo instrument in the concert hall,” she said.

She started with Johan Sebastian Bach’s Suite in C Major, incorporating a prelude which begins with a simple descending scale, then flows and drives along. The sound from the marimba is haunting.

The second part, Sarabande, is a dance in triple time, which was in fact quite relaxing. Then the third part, Gigue, was a more upbeat dance with a Celtic feel.

De Vries demonstrates amazing dexterity wielding her four mallets. “Marimba never existed in Bach’s time. But if it had, I think he would have composed only for marimba,” she said, drawing laughter from the audience. De Vries was the first foreign student at Tokyo’s College of Music under Professor Atsushi Sugahara, and she had the opportunity to perform in Japan. One of the best pieces she played at Richmond House was a composition by virtuoso marimbist Keiko Abe, Memories of the Seashore.

Abe has been a primary figure in the development of the marimba, its musical usage and in the design of the instrument itself.

“I grew up in the Cape and I’m now in the urban jungle of Gauteng. This piece depicts for me the wonderful ebb and flow of the ocean,” De Vries said. Listening to her play was like holding a seashell to your ear and being transported to coral reefs, feeling the tide around you.

Next was a piece by Matthias Schmitt called Ghanaia, an apt title for the influence of Ghanaian marimba music. “The marimba is an African instrument, so we can claim heritage,” De Vries said, “even though this is a concert, fully-chromatic instrument.”

This is not a violin concerto but a tongue-in-cheek piece composed for marimba by Australian Tim Davies, and one could imagine the strains of a violin in the melodies of the marimba.

De Vries turned to South African composer Clare Loveday for her next piece, Van Jou Water Drink. She said it was based on an Antje Krog poem, which was inspired by a Zulu song. The pixie-like performer played with several different sets of mallets on the marathon piece, and then with her fingers for the gentle, lilting part. At one point she had to stand with feet wide apart to play on either end of the instrument at the same time.

Saving the best for last, De Vries ended with Despedida (Farewell) by Brazilian composer Ney Rosauro, which she said was a very popular marimba piece written in 1986 and has already been performed more than 1 000 times in concert.

For an encore she played a short chorale by Bach. It was De Vries’s first time playing in Port Alfred, and judging by the audience’s enthusiastic response, music-lovers might be treated to another visit.

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