M. Camargo Guarnieri’s Concerto for String Orchestra and Percussion

Notes by TŌN percussionist Charles Gillette

An Unusual Pairing
Scored for strings, timpani, and two snare drums, M. Camargo Guarnieri’s Concerto for Strings and Percussion is an unusual pairing of two sections in the orchestra that rarely play together. The piece is less of a concerto in the traditional sense as it doesn’t feature any one particular instrument or performer. The strings and percussion play off one another in three movements played without pause following a fast–slow–fast format. The first movement is defined by its rhythmic energy as the strings and timpani trade driving passages, with the snare drums providing grooves to accompany the strings. Guarnieri frequently uses syncopation and mixed meter in this movement, giving the music a sense of unpredictability. The second movement showcases the strings in a lyrical and emotional memorial to the composer’s mother. The final movement returns to the same sense of energy from before. Guarnieri worked as a pianist for silent films growing up in S.o Paulo, and it’s easy to imagine this music scoring an old western. The percussion section is featured at the end as Guarneri instructs to improvise a cadenza between the snare drums and timpani for roughly one minute before the violin solo that begins the final section.

Pairing Rhythm with Lyricism
Guarneri was a new composer to me before this program and I’m struck by the way he pairs rhythm with lyricism in this piece. He dedicated his 1942 piece Abertura Concertante to Aaron Copland, and I can definitely hear Copland’s influence in Concerto for Strings and Percussion. I’m excited to be able to perform a piece that’s new to me and discover more of Guarneri’s music.