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Meet the Musicians

A Different Beat: Chamber Concert Features Unlikely Percussionists

Matthew Frischman and Adam Kuenzel
Minnesota Orchestra bass player Matthew Frischman and Principal Flute Adam Kuenzel

Orchestra Hall audiences typically see Matthew Frischman playing a six-foot-tall instrument made mostly of wood—the bass—and Principal Flute Adam Kuenzel sometimes takes the stage with a wooden flute. But at a chamber music concert in the Hall’s Target Atrium on Sunday, February 13, Frischman and Kuenzel will each play a much smaller wooden instrument: a pair of short sticks called claves. The two musicians have been enlisted as temporary percussionists in a performance of Music for Pieces of Wood by contemporary composer Steve Reich.

When Reich’s piece was chosen for the performance, an issue of arithmetic immediately surfaced: the piece calls for five players, but the Minnesota Orchestra doesn’t have that many percussionists. Brian Mount, the longtime leader of the Orchestra’s percussion section, knew who to call on for help: Frischman, a member of the Orchestra’s bass section who plays drums in the independently run Minnesota Orchestra Band (The MOB). The MOB bills itself as the “rock and roll house band of the Minnesota Orchestra,” and its members explore roles they don’t play on the Orchestra Hall stage—including Mount on guitar and vocals. Orchestra bass clarinetist Timothy Zavadil was another founding member of the MOB on guitar and vocals, and players taking turns at the keyboard have included Frank Merchlewitz of the Orchestra’s administrative staff, and former President and CEO Kevin Smith in a cameo appearance.

A gateway to percussion

“I was asked by Brian to play the Steve Reich piece, since we play in the MOB together and we talk drums all the time,” said Frischman, who also plays drums in the band Treehorn, which performs local shows with a setlist of ’90s grunge and alternative rock. “I consider Brian one of my significant drumming mentors,” he added.

Although bass and drums may seem to call for very different skill sets, Frischman explains that one instrument served as a gateway. “I played some timpani in high school,” he said. “I had already been playing bass, but they wanted someone who could tune the drums well and read in bass clef. There are actually many times when the timpani and bass have identical or very complementary parts, so it was pretty natural for me.”

“Not my idea of making music”

With Frischman in place as the fourth musician for Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood—joining Mount, Associate Principal Percussion Jason Arkis and Principal Timpani Erich Rieppel—the ensemble was rounded out by an unlikely fifth player: Principal Flute Adam Kuenzel, whose memory on the matter is a bit hazy: “Brian’s locker is right next to mine, so he may have just casually inquired if I’d want to play in this group,” he said.

Like Frischman, Kuenzel played some percussion in high school. “In my sophomore year I played drums in the marching band,” he recalled. “Playing flute in band was not my idea of making music. An opportunity came along to play drums, so I volunteered. I think the band director bought a brand-new set of percussion instruments and he didn’t want them to gather dust. I had very little training, none actually, and my audition consisted of playing a roll on a desk with my hands.” The experiment didn’t last for long, as Kuenzel quit the band altogether after that year.

Kuenzel confesses that he has the easiest role in the Reich piece. “Music for Pieces of Wood is just that: five players with claves, pairs of wooden sticks roughly tuned to a certain pitch,” he explained. “All I have to do is start the piece at about 160 beats per minute and keep that going for the duration. The other players enter one at a time in various rhythmic patterns.”

Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood is the middle work of the afternoon chamber music concert on Sunday, February 13, in Orchestra Hall’s Target Atrium, for which a limited number of tickets are still available. The other works on the program are Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Jet Whistle for flute and cello and Franz Schubert’s Octet for Strings and Winds. Later in the season comes a second chamber music performance: the Sunday, May 1 program includes works by Russell Steinberg, Johannes Brahms, Shelley Washington and Louise Farrenc. Learn more and purchase tickets.

Video: Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood played by the LSO Percussion Ensemble