American Record Guide
Stephen Estep
September 1, 2010

William Thomas McKinley (b. 1938) studied with Foss, Copland, and Schuller, and has performed as a jazz pianist with Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Eddie Gomez, and others. These three pieces owe a lot, in McKinley’s own words, to his love for Stravinsky, Ives, and Varese.

The Marimba Concerto, Childhood Memories, was written in 2005 for Nancy Zeltsman; it is in 14 movements, each with a title like “Daydreams,” “Under the Sprinkler,” and “Morning Light.” The orchestration is brilliant and full, and the music never loses momentum; it starts with an artificial sounding fade-in, and we’re immediately plunged into the middle of the conversation. Overall, the piece isn’t dull, but it isn’t that interesting, either: the figures the marimba plays all sound the same, and there aren’t really themes, but rather gestures that never quite connect with each other. And this is one damn serious child! There’s no sense of play, lightness, fancy or wit; it sounds like a child writing a dutiful paper on 20th-century dissonance without understanding it.

R.A.P. has nothing to do with rap music, so don’t panic; it stands for rhythm and pulse, and is a concerto for small jazz combo (clarinet, piano, bass, and drums) and big band. It is indebted to Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto, according to McKinley, but much of it is taken straight from the Michael Torke composing textbook—lively, spastic bursts of music, minus Torke’s sense of fun and grandeur). The result is awkward and unattractive: he just won’t give the clarinet a rest. There’s no way to tell where you are in the piece, no sense of growth or organic structure.

13 Dances for Orchestra is very much like the Concerto—a series of unconnected thoughts, sober to the point of grimness. The musicians’ frowns seem firmly in place for the entire program. Notes in English.

- Stephen Estep

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