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Marine Chamber Orchestra: Beethoven's Symphony No. 6

Photo by Master Sgt. Brian Rust

Marine Chamber Orchestra: Beethoven's Symphony No. 6

29 Jan 2024 | Master Sgt. Brian Rust United States Marine Band

The Marine Chamber Orchestra will open its 2024 concert season at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 4 with a program of two distinct halves. Conducted by Associate Director Capt. Darren Y. Lin, each half of the concert presents contrasting moods and styles of music surrounding nature. The concert is free and will take place at Northern Virginia Community College's Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center in Alexandria.

“I’m excited for the flow of the concert – from the mysterious ‘rain’ from the opening percussion trio to the evocative sound world of Augusta Read Thomas and finally ending in a warm and familiar place with Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony,” Lin said. “Each of these pieces is special to me in a different way, so I’m excited to experience them all in a row!”

A percussion trio starts the journey, creating a minimalist, dreamy soundscape on Tōru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree. Augusta Read Thomas sets the poetry of E.E. Cummings with swirls of instrumental color and texture in Absolute Ocean. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 closes the program, transporting listeners to the countryside in a beautiful work that the composer described as “more an expression of feeling than painting.”


Directions and parking



Hear what percussionist Staff Sgt. Alexander Garde had to say about Tōru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree, the first piece on the program: 

Something that really stands out to me about this piece is that it shows a softer, delicate, and at times fragile glimpse at works for percussive instruments. Often times, percussion is associated with loud and bombastic moments in classical music repertoire, from the explosive excitement of Tchaikovsky symphonies to the constant drive behind Sousa marches. In Takemitsu’s Rain Tree, however, very rarely does our dynamic rise into the forte range, and much of the beauty in the work is found in hushed serenity. Takemitsu’s music shows his immense genius and talent in orchestration, and in creating this sea of textures and unique tonalities, the listener is invited to simply let the music wash over themselves. The influence of Debussy and Messiaen, two composers who greatly resonated with Takemitsu throughout his life, is clearly present in this work, which helps to contextualize this piece as belonging with the other great compositions by those legendary innovators in classical music. Additionally, what is truly beautiful about the work is how Takemitsu was able to blend that Western stylistic influence with traditional Japanese scales, tonalities, and effects to create a worldly piece that defies boundaries.

The combination of marimba, vibraphone, and crotales in this work creates a very unique texture throughout the piece. Takemitsu is very specific in which crotale pitches he requires for the work, and after some behind-the-scenes sourcing of these instruments, we were able to put them together exactly how he has requested in the score. The selected pitches are dropped throughout the piece, at times blending with the other instruments, and at others standing out alone as their own sound. Throughout the score, the composer requests the crotales be played “softly and irregularly like raindrops falling from the leaves,” which helps to create the beautiful effect and sound world of the work. From a practical standpoint, the inclusion of these crotale notes in addition to the marimba and vibraphone create a unique challenge for the performers, as they require a hard mallet, made of either plastic or metal, to be played in order to achieve the appropriate tone. This is in contrast to the softer yarn or cord mallet that we are using on the marimba and vibraphone. At times, the performers must quickly switch their mallets in the middle of a phrase in order to use the appropriate implement on the correct instrument, and at others, it requires them to hold multiple different types of mallets in their hands at one time when there isn’t enough time to switch! This unique challenge was certainly difficult to learn at first, but now that we feel comfortable with it, the time spent learning it was certainly well worth it.

Marimba, vibraphone, and crotales are all frequently found on stage at Marine Band concerts. Composers of wind ensemble music have enjoyed writing for these instruments for quite some time now, and they can be found in a wide range of repertoire that the Marine Band plays, from Morton Gould’s classic American Salute to Augusta Read Thomas’ Absolute Ocean, which will also be performed on this Sunday’s program.

Individual performers playing multiple instruments at once, as in Rain Tree, is also a common occurrence, more frequently found in newer works. Being asked to do this is always a fun challenge that percussionists take on, and frequently leads to unique solutions for complex issues that may arise in executing these demands.

Captain Lin actually approached me about programming this piece for this concert nearly almost two years ago. At the time, I was extremely new to the band, having only joined in March of 2022. I was certainly surprised that he asked me, but I welcomed the opportunity with open arms. I have no doubt that this stunning meditative piece will leave a lasting imprint on all who experience it. It sure has left one for me.