More cowbell! Bates Cello Concerto delivers that and more

Standing in the percussion section before rehearsal for the Bates Cello Concerto, your eye goes straight to the shiny rows of fancy cowbells, called almglocken. Swiss tuned cowbells.

“They’re normally hanging around the necks of all your finer cows,” jokes TFO Principal Percussionist John Shaw.

The lovely tones sound nothing like their counterparts at a Tampa Bay Rays game.

Whenever an orchestra piece incorporates unusual elements, you’ll more often than not find them in the percussion section. True enough this weekend with the Bates Cello Concerto, which The Florida Orchestra is performing with cellist Joshua Roman, under the baton of guest conductor Joshua Weilerstein.

Don’t let the vast array of unique percussion in the corner of the stage scare you. Far from overpowering, the instruments mostly add an atmospheric layer to the beautiful, contemporary concerto. From the audience, it’s hard to see what’s going on in the back, where Shaw, Dave Coash, Kurt Grissom, Principal Timpanist John Bannon and guest percussionist Craig Benson are on duty. Here’s what to listen for:

Amplified Kalimba: Also called thumb pianos, they are wooden boxes with tuned metal tines that are plucked with the thumbs. The Bates piece uses two, amplified so they are louder. Judging from the deep marks on Coash’s thumbs, he has been practicing. A lot.

Djembe: A rope-tuned drum in the shape of a goblet that is played with bare hands.

Marimba: Looks somewhat like a giant version of a kid’s xylophone, but with wooden bars that are struck with yarn mallets. Resonators (which look like pipes) are suspended underneath to amplify the sound.

Vibraphone: Looks a lot like a marimba, but with metal bars that are hit with soft mallets. The Bates concerto uses the optional motor, which uses rotating discs inside the resonators to make the sound vibrate.

Prepared piano: The Bates piece calls for two rubber washers to be wedged into the strings inside the piano to deaden the sound. Pianist Brent Douglas did the honors just before rehearsal started.

Of course, the real star of the concerto is the cello. Which brings us to one more thing to watch for, this time at the front of the stage. In the final movement, Joshua Roman puts down his bow and plucks his 120-year-old cello — with a guitar pick.

Click thumbnails below for pictures from rehearsal.

Schubert’s Symphony No. 9

Joshua Weilerstein returns to conduct Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, “The Great,” as well as rock star cellist Joshua Roman on Bates’ Cello Concerto, and Still’s Poem for Orchestra.

Free tickets for kids and teens in advance to this and all Tampa Bay Times Masterworks concerts.

Fri, Jan 18, 8 pm, Straz Center
Sat, Jan 19, 8 pm, Mahaffey Theater
Sun, Jan 20, 2 pm, Mahaffey Theater – Matinee

Click here for tickets.

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