Joshua Jones meets The Esther Honens: The Percussionist and the Pianos

The Honens International Piano Competition has a Bison Noir; that’s no bull! Image Courtesy of Honens.

by Carey Rutherford

The Honens International Piano Competition rolls into town as August ends, presenting world-class piano newbies to battle it out in the rodeo that Ms. Honens initiated in 1992. But it’s not all newcomers, and it’s not all pianos!

In their efforts to expand the diversity and reach of the piano competition performances, the Honens stretched it’s possibilities in 2012 with Bison Noir (a nod to New York’s cool, adventurous Le Poisson Rouge). Here’s what Honens says:

“Ditch your finery and come join us at the Legion immediately following Finals I for a nosh, a pint of your favourite brew, and an exciting contemporary program for piano and percussion featuring Susanne Ruberg-Gordon and Joshua Jones. The evening will include works by Pärt, Piazzolla, and Alberta composers Allan Gordon Bell and Vincent Ho.”

So who better to ask about this than the aforementioned Calgary Philharmonic percussionist, Joshua Jones?

And what better to ask about than Ho’s work for piano and . . . drum kit?

“(“Kickin’ It” is) a piano and drumset duet. The outer movements are very rhythmically intricate; honestly, I think the way I’m going to be playing it is to highlight the piano, because personally I think their part is a little more interesting than mine. . . (I play) a complete drum kit. In the middle 2 movements I use fingernails and mallets and brushes, but the outer 2 movements I use regular drumsticks.”

And Ms. Ruberg-Gordon plays the piano. However, there’s no piano in the opening piece, Yiruma’s “River Flows in You”, which is a solo work for vibraphone, giving Joshua lots of room for improvisation.

“It’s actually a supposed piano transcription: I figured I’d play that one because it would be something reliable. I just copied it and put it on vibraphone.”

MUSICAlive! asks if most vibraphone compositions are original, or if more are transcribed from classical piano, and Mr. Jones thinks it’s probably about 50/50. He attributes the use of the vibraphone in jazz to likely helping to increase the volume of composers interested in this percussion instrument as a melodic centrepiece. We also discuss the universality of percussion in ALL music genres, and how this impacts his music choices.

“I like the freedom of (percussion performance), and there’s always something new to learn.”

For example, Joshua, on his website, DRUM MOJO, breaks down the origins of a spatial approach to percussion that was catalyzed in him by his work with a dance company early in his career:

“Space of time; space of motion (actually taking up space with your movement); how the sound takes space in the auditory sense; space of play (playing around, not just thinking but acting instinctively). I try to apply that as much as I can.”

Investigating Joshua’s time with the CPO, MUSICAlive! discovers he just arrived here in January of this year. He’s a newbie too! Though less of one than the competitors that are flooding into Calgary for the Honens. We mention the enthusiasm of the Calgary Philharmonic audiences, and the CPO resurgence in popularity in the last decade, and he agrees:

“Yeah, I really like it here!”

Come welcome Joshua and the other Bison Noirettes at this after-concert performance, as they add some sass to the Honens style.

Bison Noir 2018
September 6, at 10 pm
Calgary Royal Canadian Legion #1, 116-7 Ave., SE (This event is 18+)
“An exciting contemporary program for piano and percussion, including pieces by Calgarian composers Allan Gordon Bell and Vincent Ho.”

Susanne Ruberg-Gordon: piano
Joshua Jones: percussion
Jon Kimura Parker: piano
-Yiruma: River Flows in You
-Allan Gordon Bell: Old Coyote’s Saturday Night
-Arvo Pärt: Für Alina
-Astor Piazzolla: Libertango
-Astor Piazzolla: Insolito Buenos Aires (arr. Saúl Cosentino)
-Vincent Ho: Kickin’ It