Composers Datebook®

Alexis Alrich's Marimba Concerto

Composer's Datebook - May 9, 2022


One today’s date in 2004, a new concerto for marimba and orchestra had its premiere in San Francisco, with soloist Matthew Cannon and the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra.

The new concerto was written by Alexis Alrich, who studied composition out East at the New England Conservatory, and out West at Mills College, where one of her teachers was Lou Harrison, who introduced her to Asian music through Javanese gamelan. Her own music, she says, blends American minimalism, Asian music, and Western classical and folk music, a mix some have described as “California impressionism.”

“[My] Marimba Concerto,” says Alrich, “is highly demanding for the soloist and fully exploits the technical possibilities and sound palette of the five-octave marimba. The opening movement with its string tremolos and whispering wind motifs provides an atmospheric entrance for the solo marimba … The middle movement starts with a gently pulsating theme that recurs between contrasting sections, including one in Mexican folk style. The final movement climaxes with a multi-layered, Asian-inspired chorale … with a toccata-style cadenza for the soloist.”

In 2010 British percussion virtuoso Dame Evelyn Glennie and City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong gave the Asian premiere of the concerto and made its first recording.

Music Played in Today's Program

Alexis Alrich (b. 1955) – Marimba Concerto (Evelyn Glennie, marimba; City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong; Jean Thorel, cond.) Naxos 8.574218

On This Day


  • 1740 - Italian composer Giovanni Paisiello, in Roccaforzata, near Taranto;

  • 1814 - German pianist and composer Adolph von Henselt, in Schwabach,Bavaria;


  • 1707 - German organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehunde, age c. 70, in Lübeck;

  • 1770 - (on May 9 or 10) English composer, conductor and writer on music Charles Avison, age 61, in Newcastle upon Tyne ;

  • 1791 - American statesman and songwriter Francis Hopkinson, age 53, in Philadelphia; He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and dedicated a book of his songs to George Washington;

  • 1799 - French composer Claude Balbastre, age c. 72, in Paris;


  • 1812 - Rossini's opera "La Scala di seta" (The Silken Ladder), in Venice;

  • 1868 - Bruckner: Symphony No. 1, in Linz, composer conducting;

  • 1893 - Rachmaninoff: opera "Aleko," in Moscow at the Bolshoi Theater (Julian date: April 27);

  • 1924 - R. Strauss: ballet "Schlagobers" (Whipped Cream), in Vienna;

  • 1940 - The film "Our Town" opens in Hollywood at Grauman's Chinese Theater; The film was based on the play of the same name by Thorton Wilder, and featured a filmscore by Aaron Copland; Copland arranged a suite of music from his filmscore, which premiered on CBS Radio on June 9, 1940; A revised version of the suite was given its first public performance by the Boston Pops conducted by Leonard Bernstein on May 7, 1944;

  • 1981 - Christopher Rouse: "The Infernal Machine" for orchestra (Movement II of Rouse's "Phantasmata"), at the Evian Festival, France, by the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, Gustav Meier conducting;

  • 1986 - Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: "Concerto Grosso" (after Handel's Sonata in D), by the Handel Festival Orchestra of Washington, Stephen Simon conducting;

  • 1988 - Bernstein: "Arias and Barcarolles," at Equitable Center Auditorium in New York City, by vocalists Louise Edeiken, JoyceCastle, John Brandstetter, and Mordechai Kaston, with the composer and Michael Tilson Thomas at the piano; An orchestrated version of this work prepared by Bright Sheng premiered on September 22, 1989, at the Tilles Center of Long Island University with the New York Chamber Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz and featuring vocalists Susan Graham and Kurt Ollmann;

  • 1990 - John Harbison: "Words from Patterson" (to texts by William Carlos Williams), at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., with baritone William Sharp and the members of the New Jersey Chamber Music Society;

  • 1998 - John Tavener: "Wake Up and Die," for solo cello and orchestral cello section, at the Beauvais Cello Festival in Beavais , France;

  • 1999 - Zwillich: "Upbeat!" by National Symphony, Anthony Aibel conducting;


  • 1863 - American premiere of Berlioz's "Harold in Italy," by the Theodore Thomas Orchestra in New York.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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