Percussionists dazzle on whirlwind world tour

Diana Danyi

PERCUSSION TAKES CENTRE stage when one of the world's most original and versatile groups of musicians takes the audience on a dazzling journey Around the World in 80 Minutes, as their show is titled.

Performing on instruments as widely different as Chinese gongs, Polynesian log drums, tin cans, bicycle wheels and frying pans, the Budapest-based musicians will be performing traditional music from China, Tonga, Indonesia, Ghana, Tahiti, Uganda and Zimbabwe, as well as their own compositions.

The Amadinda Percussion Group comprises four graduates of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music. Their mission is two-fold: to introduce percussion music from around the world to audiences in their homeland and to showcase contemporary Hungarian music at home and abroad.

The group also researches traditional percussion cultures, presents new compositions by members of the group and transcribes for percussion instruments well-known works from the classical repertory.

As Zoltan Racz, the group's artistic director and a professor at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music, explained, 'The fact that Amadinda was founded by only four members, as opposed to the traditional set-up of six musicians, clearly signalled our intention of creating a new repertoire set in an innovative framework.'

Leading names in contemporary music who have written works for the group include John Cage, Peter Eotvos, Rosemary Hardy, Andras Keller, Zoltan Kocsis, Gyorgy Ligeti and James Wood.

'Apart from the great pieces of composers like John Cage and Gyorgy Ligeti, the compositions of group members Aurel Hollo and Zoltan Vaczi really helped us to create a new voice, a voice that is unique and impossible to mix with that of other similar ensembles,' Racz said.

Besides writing original music, the group also devises original musical instruments. Group member Karoly Bojtos is responsible for programme researching and developing new instruments.

The percussionists, who take the name Amadinda from a 12-key Ugandan xylophone, admit to being strongly influenced by Asia.

'The influence of Asian music on the percussion art is inevitable, given the incredible wealth and virtuosity of traditional Asian music that makes up its spine, not to mention the fact that most percussion instruments originate from this region,' Bojtos said.

The group, which is performing in Hong Kong for the first time, toured this part of the world in 1992 and 1995, giving concerts in Japan and Australia, and made three concert tours of Taiwan between 1996 and 2002.

Racz visited Hong Kong as a tourist in 1996 and was much taken with the city's architectural strengths and the territory's natural beauty.

Around the World in 80 Minutes features non-European musical traditions alongside contemporary works in the European and American tradition.

The excitingly diversified programme ranges from traditional music from Uganda, Zimbabwe, Spain and Polynesia to arrangements of piano music by Claude Debussy and works by icons in contemporary music such as John Cage, Scott Joplin and Steve Reich.

Racz said the ensemble had a treat specially created for its Hong Kong audience. 'It is a beautiful, traditional Chinese song transcribed for percussion instruments,' he said.

The Amadinda Percussion Group gives two performances on March 11, at 3pm and 7.30pm, at the City Hall Concert Hall.