Keiko Abe: The Wave Impressions Concerto for Marimba


Keiko Abe’s The Wave Impression Concerto for Marimba was composed in 2002 and it is written for orchestra, marimba.  Abe explains in this short paragraph what this concerto is all about:

“This piece consists of three contrasting musical elements and the approaches to the marimba. There is a short introduction with Japanese affections before the violent rising phrases of solo marimba and the energy of the marimba always leading the orchestra. In the middle section, a slow melody, almost an image of praying, is written over the deep and low range sound of the marimba.

After the cadenza, the dreamlike world expands with changing meter. In contrast with the middle section which has the colour of a Japanese-like melody, in the final section, the long continuation of the marimba eighth note triplet gives a vital spark and the melody, that likes enjoying life, builds an energetic climax integrating with the orchestra.

This is a concerto opposing the unique and original composer’s marimba sound and the profoundness of the orchestra and expressing a free-spirited style unconstrained by format.”


The Music

The concerto begins with a rumble from the orchestra, which set the scene for when the energetic marimba enters. There is an explosion of sound when the marimba starts playing, and the entry uses the whole range of the marimba. The soloist then plays a select two chords, which gradually speed up until a flourish into the top end of the instruments. The orchestra proclaims the initial motif once more. The marimba enters again with a similar entry to the first, with slight variation. The drums shadow a single motif from the marimba. This leads to a short silence before a climactic section with the marimba playing a succession of intervals in each octave of the marimba.

The orchestra follow this, and the percussion section begin to reflect the rhythmic movement of the soloist. Another short silence is heard, then a very petite section begins. The marimba plays with the shaft of the stick, rather than the head to create a different tone and also a much quieter dynamic. This is then contrasted by a louder section, where the soloist plays with the head of the stick once more. The flute and piccolo also play this motif with the soloist. The more disjointed section is accompanied by a counter-melody from the lower brass and a pizzicato motif by the upper strings. This section sees the complete range of the marimba being used, which gives colour and a range of different tones.

Another section begins with the soloist using the shaft of the stick to create a more petite sound. A small orchestral interlude leads onto the soloist returning with a predominantly pentatonic motif. At times the marimba and orchestra are in unison, but more often than not there are always two melodies going on at any one time. A climactic section leads to the marimba leading a variation of a motif into the orchestra bringing down the mood to a dark and mysterious atmosphere.

The soloist plays a sequence of notes down in the bottom range of the instrument, which gives a very woody timbre. The dynamic is extremely quiet here. The ominous lower strings add a lot to the timbre here. As the marimba begins to creep up in range, so do the strings. This middle section is what Abe describes as the “dreamlike” section. A much more dramatic atmosphere is created, and this dream like state is moving up and through the marimba. Next is a wonderful melody played in the upper register of the instrument.

The next section begins with a more up-beat tempo. The soloist and orchestra play in unison, with the soloist embellishing the initial theme. Soon the mood drops back into the very dark and moody atmosphere, with the soloist playing in the lower register once more. This leads into the cadenza which shows off the wonderful tones and range of the marimba. After the cadenza, the orchestra begin with a pizzicato motif. The tonality has turned major here, and the feeling is much more free. The marimba is playing a variation of different rhythms above the orchestra.

There is another orchestral interlude, with the ensemble developing the main themes, the marimba returns and there is a rush of sound soon dies away into another interlude where the soloist plays with a mixture of the shaft and head of the sticks. There is a bold chord from the brass, which is where the sound of the marimba grows into dynamic fruition. The compound time signatures used in this section reflect the dexterity needed to play this kind of concerto. The complex rhythms are played until a climax, where the orchestra stay at a loud dynamic, but the soloist plays on the shaft again. This is one of the first times the soloist is not leading the ensemble.

A percussion breakdown section leads into another ominous section from the winds and strings, the marimba returns with harder sticks, which create a much brighter sound. The fluctuation between chords in this section creates an amalgamation of sound, which leads to a very frantic climax once more and the soloist playing an incredibly fast melody. The marimba then plays a broken chord down the whole range of the instrument. A swell from the orchestra leads to a triumphant end to the concerto.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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You might also enjoy… Jennifer Higdon: Percussion Concerto


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This is a wind orchestra arrangement, which has Keiko Abe playing the solo part herself.


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