Blog / WATCH: Percussion Classics

WATCH: Percussion Classics

Posted on 23 Feb 2016 by Leo Messias


Pictured: Synergy Percussion 

Cinemusica is our program that explores strings and percussion through film’s most iconic scores, and features Australia’s leading percussion ensemble, Synergy Percussion.  

As a string ensemble the ACO doesn’t get the chance to share the stage with percussion musicians as often as we would like, so we thought we’d use this as an excuse to indulge in exploring some of our favourite classical pieces that feature percussive instrumentation at the forefront of the compositional process.  

So without further ado, here are the classical world's most exciting percussion pieces - let us know in the comments section further below if we missed any! 

Thomas Newman’s highly inventive score for the five-Oscar winning American Beauty (1999) – featured in the Cinemusica program – performed by a little-known but totally rocking Ferny Grove Percussion Ensemble.


A remarkable piece bristling with a sense of cinematic wonder and discovery, John Thrower‘s Aurora Borealis (1997) predates Newman’s score for American Beauty by a couple of years.


Steve Reich’s hypnotic Six Marimbas (1986) is arguably one of the composer’s finest and most influential releases, and remains to this day a favourite among percussive heads.


Christoper Deane’s Mourning Dove Sonnet (1983) solo piece for vibraphone feels like walking through a crystal forest...


Joseph Schwantner’s …and the mountais rising nowhere (1977) features wine glass caressing, eerie singing and ghostly whistling for incredible dramatic effect that would feel right at home in any film from the 1970s.

The only Australian on this list, Nigel Westlake shares a Reichean sensibility in his incredible Omphalo Centric Lecture (1984).

Nathan Daughtrey’s Black Rainbow (2013) is the most recent composition in this lot, and seems to take a few dramatic cues from Xenakis and Bartók.

György Ligeti’s Síppal, dobbal, nádihegedüvel (With Pipes, Drums, Fiddles) (2000) is a song cycle in seven movements scored for mezzo-soprano and an unusual ensemble of percussion and wind instruments. The lyrics are whimsical and often nonsensical, sometimes combining random Hungarian words or parts of words into a nonsense language.

Jennifer Hygdon’s fascinating Percussion Concerto features thoroughly absorbing percussion solos that unusually place the rest of the orchestra as a second protagonist.



THOMAS NEWMAN American Beauty (selections)
HERRMANN Psycho: A Suite for Strings
TIMOTHY CONSTABLE New work for strings and percussion (World Premiere)
BARTÓK Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta