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Joan Tower

Publisher: AMP

Tambor (1998)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Year Composed
15 Minutes
Purchase CD
Programme Note
Joan Tower Tambor (1998)
Tambor, composed between September 1997 and February 1998, was commissioned by Mariss Jansons and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, who gave the work's premiere on May 7 of the latter year; the score is dedicated to Robert Moir, the Pittsburgh Symphony's artistic administrator. The title, Tambor, is the Spanish word for "drum." Tower is familiar with that language, having grown up in South America, where her father worked as a mining engineer, and possibly the prominence and versatility of percussion instruments in Latin American music were influential recollections in her creation of this work, in which she assigns a major role to that section of the orchestra.

Composer Note:

This 15·minute work features the percussion section, whose five members (the timpanist and four others) essentially have three functions inside the orchestra:

1. to 'eyeline,' or underscore the different timbres and rhythms of other parts of the orchestra;
2. to 'counterpoint' other parts of the orchestra; and
3. to act as soloists in several minor and major cadenzas throughout the work.

What happened while I was writing this piece was that the strong role of the percussion began to influence the behavior of the rest of the orchestra to the point that the other instruments began to act more and more like a percussion section themselves. In other words, the main 'action' of the work becomes more concerned with rhythm and color than with motives or melodies (though these elements do make occasional appearances here and there).

—Joan Tower

  • Ensemble
    Nashville Symphony
    Leonard Slatkin
  • 16 NOV 2018
    Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, NY
    Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
    Joann Falletta, conductor

    Other Dates:
    17 November 2019 - Kleinahns Music Hall, Buffalo, NY
  • 27 OCT 2018
    Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Annandale On Hudson, NY
    Bard Conservatory Orchestra
    Leon Botstein, conductor
  • 13 OCT 2018
    Palace Theater, Stamford, CT
    Stamford Symphony Orchestra
    Edward Cumming, conductor

    Other Dates:
    14 October - Palace Theater, Stamford, CT
  • 22 SEP 2018
    Royce Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA
    American Youth Symphony
    Sergio Coehlo; Carlos Izcaray, conductor
  • 07 OCT 2017
    University of Arizona, Crowder Hall, Tucson, AZ
    The University of Arizona Symphony Orchestra
    Thomas Cockrell, conductor
  • 18 SEP 2015
    Birmingham, AL
    Alabama Symphony Orchestra
    Carlos Izcaray, conductor

    Other Dates:
    19 September - Birmingham, AL
  • 04 OCT 2013
    Cleveland, OH
    Cleveland State University
    Liza Grossman, conductor
  • 03 NOV 2012
    Poughkeepsie, NY
    Hudson Valley Philharmonic
    Randall Craig Fleischer, conductor
  • 03 NOV 2012
    Poughkeepsie, NY
    Hudson Valley Philharmonic
    Randall Craig Fleischer, conductor
  • 10 APR 2011
    Bloomington, IN
    Indiana University
  • 10 APR 2011
    Bloomington, IN
    Indiana University
  • 03 MAR 2011
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Pittsburgh Symphony
    Yan Pascal Tortelier, conductor

    Other Dates:
    4,5 March - Pittsburgh, PA
  • 12 DEC 2009
    Cleveland Heights, OH
    Contemporary Youth Orchestra
    Liza Grossman, conductor
  • 20 MAR 2009
    Albany, NY
    Albany Symphony
    David Alan Miller, conductor

Tambor, composed by Joan Tower in 1998, was given a dramatic reading, its dense orchestrations, copious percussion, flurries of woodwind chords and lofty sound masses encasing a score that was ever seething with rhythmic intensity. ASO, one of the nation’s most prolific purveyors of such music, felt its power.
Michael Huebner,,19/09/2015
Made in America World Premiere recording Tambor World Premiere recording Concerto for Orchestra Nashville Symphony/Slatkin Naxos CD 8559328 Made in America resulted from a commissioning project involving 65 smaller-budget American orchestras; it was designed to challenge without intimidation, and to be accessible as opposed to simplistic. The work typifies Tower’s splendid ear for sonority and her subtle harmonic sense, not to mention her ease and authority operating within the American symphonic syntax as defined by Copland and his circle… More virtuosic demands permeate Tower’s 1991 Concerto for Orchestra, where soloists and smaller instrumental groups assert both their individual profile and facility to engage in chamber-like combat with their neighbors. ...the Nashville Symphony boasts lusty strings, hefty brass, and strong, decisive percussion players. The latter, in fact, brilliantly dominate throughout Tambor, and will prove hard to beat (pun intended) should another maestro dare to challenge this premiere recorded version. Naxos’ first-rate engineering mirrors the music’s excitement and immediacy. Enthusiastically recommended!
Jed Distler,,12/06/2007
...a colorful score full of zesty percussive effects inspired by South American sources.
Donald Rosenberg, Cleveland Plain Dealer,20/06/2004
...a 15-minute exploration of driving rhythms and percussive timbres...
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times,27/01/2000
Its knockout moments alternate with lyrical melodic fragments and phrases in the strings. Tower's rhythmic vocabulary is varied and inventive, at times reveling in cross-rhythms and off-the-beat accents...
Robert Croan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,09/05/1998
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