NEXUS, percussion ensemble : Program Biography

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The first, entirely improvised NEXUS concert in 1971 marked the formation of a group that would touch and entertain people of all levels of musical learning, in all genres of percussion music. Bob Becker, Bill Cahn, Russell Hartenberger and Garry Kvistad are virtuosos alone, and bring elements of their knowledge and character to a distinct and powerful whole. They stand out in the contemporary music scene for the innovation and diversity of their programs, their impressive history of collaborations and commissions, their revival of 1920's novelty ragtime xylophone music, and their influential improvisatory ideas.
NEXUS' firm commitment to music education and a steady output of quality CD recordings and compositions by its members continues to enhance the role of percussion in the 21st century. NEXUS' music, with its widespread appeal, has taken the group on tours of Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Brazil, Scandinavia, Europe, and regularly to the United States and Canada. NEXUS is proud to have been the first Western percussion group to perform in the People's Republic of China. They have also enjoyed participating at international music festivals such as the Adelaide, Holland, Budapest Spring, Singapore Arts, Tanglewood, Ravinia, and Blossom Music Festivals, as well as the BBC Proms in London, Music Today and Music Joy festivals in Tokyo, and many World Drum Festivals. NEXUS is the recipient of the Banff Centre for the Arts National Award and the Toronto Arts Award. NEXUS was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 1999, just before celebrating their 30th anniversary season.
Especially renowned for their improvisational skills, NEXUS was called upon to create the musical score for the National Film Board's Inside Time, which won the 2008 Yorkton Golden Sheaf award for best social/political documentary and the 2008 Robert Brooks award for cinematography. TV and radio broadcasters such as the CBS TV, PBS, and CBC have regularly featured this leading percussion ensemble. NEXUS also created the chilling score for the Academy Award-winning feature-length documentary The Man Who Skied Down Everest. NEXUS' list of high-profile collaborations includes Steve Reich, the Kronos Quartet, the Canadian Brass, and clarinetist Richard Stoltzman.
Toru Takemitsu, a great friend to NEXUS, composed one of their signature pieces, From me flows what you call Time…. This work, written with each NEXUS member's personality in mind, was premiered for Carnegie Hall's centennial celebration in 1990 with Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra (recorded on Sony with the Pacific Symphony). In 2005, Pulitzer Prize winning composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich composed Rituals for NEXUS and Chamber Orchestra. New Music Box calls it "one of Zwilich’s most exciting compositions to date…[a] blockbuster piece!”  The recording features NEXUS and the IRIS Orchestra. 
Among notable NEXUS events have been their 2007/08 performances at the Ojai Festival in California that reviewer Charles Donelan called “thrilling” and said would “certainly stand as one of the most memorable of 2007 in any venue, anywhere”, and the L.A. Times music critic commented, “Ojai felt, for that hour, like holy ground.” In 2008/09 NEXUS premiered two new commissioned works from Juilliard’s Eric Ewazen, and from marimba virtuoso Gordon Stout. A solo CD entitled Wings was also released in 2009. The group's previous solo CD was the Juno-nominated Drumtalker. NEXUS launched their 40th season with the premiere of the new co-commissioned Steve Reich Mallet Quartet in 2010, followed by 2011 sell-outs at the Minnesota Beethoven Festival and in Japan, and critically acclaimed concerts with the Syracuse NY and Austin TX symphony orchestras. Following their featured appearance on the Canadian Brass's best-selling CD Stars and Stripes - A Tribute to the USA the two ensembles appeared together in concert in upstate New York in July 2011. In 2012 NEXUS toured to California, Arkansas, Georgia and Ohio, appeared at Percussion Rochester, and performed the Reich Mallet Quartet for Soundstreams’ 30th anniversary. In Fall 2012 NEXUS honoured John Cage's 100th Anniversary at Bard College's Fisher Center in New York with an unusual performance and recording of Cage's once-lost 1942 radio play The City Wears A Slouch Hat in collaboration with renowned film maker Mikel Rouse. NEXUS realized the percussion and sound effects score which involved live actors, the film and the NEXUS performance featuring new instruments created by NEXUS for the event. Spring 2013 finds NEXUS performing with the Eastman Wind Ensemble in Toronto, and with the Rochester Philharmonic in Rochester NY. NEXUS wishes to thank Pearl/Adams, The Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council for their ongoing support. This year the OAC is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and we thank them for supporting NEXUS for a large number of those years!!


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Bob Becker’s performing experience spans nearly all of the musical disciplines where percussion is found. He has been percussionist for the Marlboro Music Festival and timpanist with the Marlboro Festival Orchestra under Pablo Casals. For several years he toured as drummer and percussionist with the Paul Winter Consort. He has also performed and recorded with such diverse groups as the Ensemble Intercontemporaine under Pierre Boulez, the Ensemble Modern of Germany, the Schoenberg Ensemble of Amsterdam and the Boston Chamber Players. He has appeared as tabla soloist in India and has accompanied many of the major artists of Hindustani music. He is also a founding member of the Flaming Dono West African Dance and Drum Ensemble in Toronto. As a regular member of the ensemble Steve Reich and Musicians, he has appeared as soloist with the Israel Philharmonic, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic and the London Symphony and recorded for Deutsche Grammophone, EMI and Nonesuch.
Generally considered to be one of the world’s premier virtuoso performers on the xylophone and marimba, he also appears regularly as an independent soloist and clinician. In particular, his work toward resurrecting the repertoire and performance styles of early 20th century xylophone music has been recognized internationally. He has appeared as xylophone soloist at the Blossom Festival, the Eastern Music Festival, the Meadow Brook Festival as well as with orchestras and concert bands throughout the United States. Becker has performed and lectured for music departments and percussion programs throughout North America and Europe. His clinics and workshops cover a wide variety of percussion topics including North Indian tabla drumming, West and East African percussion, “melodic” snare drumming and ragtime xylophone improvisation concepts. In 2002 he was a jurist for the Geneva International Music Competition in Switzerland, and in 2005 a jurist for the International Percussion Competition in Luxembourg. He has served as editor for the contemporary percussion issue of the British publication Contemporary Music Revue and served for two years on the board of directors of the Percussive Arts Society.
Becker’s compositions and arrangements are performed regularly by percussion groups world-wide. Five of his compositions are included on his solo CD album, There is a Time, released in 1995 on the Nexus Records label. In the spring of 1997 he was selected to be composer-in-residence for the Virginia Waterfront International Festival of the Arts, which presented the US premier of his orchestral work Music On The Moon. His most recent works are settings of poetry by the American author Conrad Aiken, and feature voices and strings as well as keyboard percussion. Mr. Becker uses the Bob Becker Soloist model xylophone by Malletech/KP3 and xylophone mallets by Malletech.
Born in Philadelphia in 1946, Bill Cahn has performed with conductors, composers, ensembles, and popular artists representing diverse musical styles - among them, Chet Atkins, John Cage, Carlos Chavez, Aaron Copland, Jimmy Durante, the Chuck Mangione Orchestra, Marian McPartland, the Marlboro Music Festival, Mitch Miller, Seiji Ozawa, Steve Reich, Doc Severensen, Leopold Stokowski, Igor Stravinsky, Edgard Varèse, and the Paul Winter Consort. He was the principal percussionist in the Rochester (NY) Philharmonic Orchestra from 1968 to 1995, and he has appeared as soloist with symphony orchestras and at music festivals throughout the world.
Bill’s compositions for solo and ensemble percussion are published by HoneyRock Publishing and Marimba Productions, Inc., and distributed worldwide. His works for NEXUS and symphony orchestra have been widely performed, and he has produced a number of compact discs, including two with NEXUS and Orchestra - Bill Moyers Narrates the Story of Percussion In the Orchestra (1992), and VOICES (1994) - and one, The Solo Percussionist (1996), containing his own compositions performed by six of the finest percussion artists in the world. His arrangements of xylophone solos from the 1920s era of ‘novelty ragtime’ - arranged for marimba ensemble, with band and orchestra accompaniments - are also widely performed.
His articles and essays on music and percussion have been published in music periodicals and he has authored three books on music subjects. His research into the history of the xylophone has led to the publication of his 280-page discography, The Xylophone In Acoustic Recordings, 1877-1929. In 1985 Bill wrote and produced a classical music video entitled March to the Scaffold featuring the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. The six-minute video has been seen on public television in the U.S. and Australia, and it was featured on a CBS NEWS SUNDAY MORNING national broadcast.
Bill has written and conducted pops and educational programs for symphony orchestras and he has created programs featuring percussion for public schools. He is active in presenting lectures and workshops on the subjects of careers in music, the business of music, and percussion performance. He has served as panelist for the American Symphony Orchestra League and as the artist faculty member in percussion at the A.S.O.L. National Youth Orchestra Festival, and the Banff Centre for the Arts. He is an artist in residence (1998-present) at Showa University of Music in Atsugi, Japan. In 1988 he received the Rochester Philharmonic League FANFARE AWARD for his “significant contribution to music education in the Rochester community.” In 1993 he and his wife, Ruth, were named MUSICIANS OF THE YEAR by the Rochester Chapter of Mu Phi Epsilon.
Russell Hartenberger began his percussion studies in Oklahoma City with Alan Abel. After Mr. Abel left Oklahoma City to join the Philadelphia Orchestra, Russell studied with Tom Gauger and K. Dean Walker. He received his B.Mus degree from Curtis Institute where he studied with Fred D. Hinger. Upon graduation from Curtis, he joined the U.S. Air Force Band and toured throughout the US, Europe and South America as xylophone soloist. While in the Air Force Band, Russell received his M.Mus degree from Catholic University where he again studied with Alan Abel. Russell holds a PhD in World Music from Wesleyan University where he studied mrdangam with Ramnad Raghavan of South India, tabla with Sharda Sahai of North India, Javanese Gamelan with Prawotosaputro and West African Drumming with Abraham Adzinyah. He is Professor of Percussion at the University of Toronto and is currently Acting Associate Dean and Chair of the Performance Department.
He has been a member of the Oklahoma City Symphony, Philadelphia Lyric Opera Co., percussionist at the Marlboro Music Festival, Principal Percussion of the New Haven Symphony, timpanist with the Canadian Opera Company and performs often with the Toronto Symphony. He has performed with the Paul Winter Consort, Ensemble Modern of Germany, John Wyre’s World Drums, Woodstock Beat, and New Music Concerts of Toronto. He also has worked and/or recorded with such diverse musicians as Gil Evans, Jimmy Garrison, John Cage, John Adams, Steve Gadd, Peter Erskine, Glen Velez, Iannis Xenakis, Pablo Casals, Canadian Brass, Kronos String Quartet, Peter Serkin, Trichy Sankaran, Richard Stoltzman and Yo-Yo Ma.
Russell has been a member of Steve Reich and Musicians since 1971, and with them he has recorded for ECM, DGG and Nonesuch Records. He performed on the Grammy Award-winning recording of Music for 18 Musicians. With the Reich Ensemble, Russell has toured throughout the world and performed with the New York Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, Cologne Radio Orchestra, London Symphony and Brooklyn Philharmonic. The conductors he has played under include Zubin Mehta, Michael Tilson Thomas, Kent Nagano, Peter Eotvos, Paul Hillyer, Brad Lubman and George Manahan. Russell lives in Toronto with his wife, artist Bonnie Sheckter and their two daughters, Laura and Carla.
Garry Kvistad joined Nexus in the Fall of 2002 when John Wyre, one of the group’s original members, retired. He has been performing and recording with Nexus co-founders Bob Becker and Russell Hartenberger since joining Steve Reich and Musicians in 1980. Garry is one of 18 musicians to win a Grammy award for the 1998 recording of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians.
Garry attended the Interlochen Arts Academy where he studied with Jack McKenzie and Michael Ranta. He earned his BM from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music where he studied with Cloyd Duff and Richard Weiner, and his MM from Northern Illinois University where he studied music, art and physics in the pursuit of musical instrument building. In 1993 Northern Illinois University honored him with its Distinguished Alumni Award. In the 1970s, Garry worked with composer/conductor Lucas Foss as a Creative Associate in Buffalo, New York, after which he joined the faculties of Northern Illinois University and the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. During that time he co-founded the Blackearth Percussion Group which recorded and toured in the US, Canada, and Europe. Kvistad has served as the timpanist and percussionist with the Chicago Grant Park Symphony, was a summer Tanglewood Fellow, and a percussionist with the Cabrillo Music Festival Orchestra, California. He has been featured in performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic, as well as many others in North America and Europe. The Balinese Gong Kebyar Gamelan ensemble, Giri Mekar, which he formed in 1987, is currently in residence at Bard College.
Garry is the founder and, presently, the CEO of Woodstock Percussion, Inc., makers of Woodstock Chimes and musical instruments for children. He is a 1995 winner of Ernst and Young/Inc. Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the Southern New England Region and served as a New York state delegate to the 1995 White House Conference on Small Business. Garry serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Woodstock Guild, Woodstock, NY; and as a member of the Board of Advisors of The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, Arkville, NY. Garry lives in beautiful upstate New York with his wife Diane, lots of pets and houseplants. They have two daughters, Tasa and Maya, both following artistic paths.


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