Home > Individual Works

Speaking in Drums for timpani and string orchestra (1994)

Commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra. Premiere 27 January 1995, The Minnesota Orchestra, Christopher Seaman, cond., Peter Kogan, timpanist. Published by MMB. 20’.

Comment: This was written for my friend (since junior high school) Peter Kogan who gave it a magnificent first performance.

Review: “Schiff not only draws on the jazz idioms but also evokes the African tradition of the talking drum as the title of the work suggests. The five timpani arranged in a semicircle deliver a monologue that turns in to a sermon in the middle movement and an agitated, angry rap in the finale. At times the percussion part forms a kind of counterpoint to what the strings have to say; at other times it merely punctuates the message of the strings. Elsewhere it delivers extended riffs of its own. The work opens with an abrasive flourish in the strings then it settles into a proud but mournful theme. The soloist throughout is asked to deliver and distinguish a subtle variety of tonal colors and sustain a rhythmic complexity that while customary to jazz is foreign to the standard concert hall repertoire. The surprising thing about Speaking in Drums is that it transcends its own novelty status. It is intended to be a virtuoso piece for an unusual arrangement of instruments, a task at which it succeeds admirably. But the music also carries a great deal of emotional weight; it ends up being more than an odd exercise. Its emotions are almost as complex as its rhythms.” Michael Anthony, Star Tribune, 28 January 1995.