Telling an epic story with one note

California Symphony percussionist Victor Avdienko has one thing to do in Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 and that is to play a lone, epic cymbal crash.

For him though, it’s much more than just a single note.

By Victor Avdienko, California Symphony percussionist.

I played this piece before with Herbert Blomstedt [San Francisco Symphony Music Director (1985-95) and a noted Bruckner specialist]. I had to be engaged with the music from the very first note of the Symphony.

You don’t just show up 30 seconds before and throw it down and walk away.”

Even though I only play one note, the entire time I wait for that moment sets up the intense emotional release that the cymbal crash represents. You have to be as emotionally involved as the rest of the Orchestra. It’s not just a single note. It has to relate to what happens before that crash. You don’t just show up 30 seconds before and throw it down and walk away. The note relates to all the music and emotional roller coaster before that moment, so it can change subtly with each performance.

I don’t feel Bruckner “hates” percussionists. He simply used the color and texture of the percussion sparingly to increase the emotional impact. Contrast this style with Tchaikovsky, who composed very busy and exuberant cymbal parts. Both have the similar emotional release, but they were just master chefs using a single ingredient in differing amounts.

In addition to being musically and emotionally engaged, the big challenge is being able to play a single epic crash technically. You don’t get a warm up crash leading into it. You have to be able to tell an epic story with that one note, and if you haven’t got a good concept of sound from your cymbals, it may not be an appropriate effective sound. I’ll have two or three different pairs of cymbals to try at rehearsals.

Alex Orfaly and Victor Avdienko at Symphony Surround

Alex Orfaly and Victor Avdienko play marimba under the planetarium dome at Symphony Surround, June 8, at Chabot Space & Science Center. Photo: Lenny Gonzalez.

You can see Victor in the EPIC BRUCKNER May 5 season finale concert at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. Tickets and information available online or by calling the Lesher Center Box Office at 925.934.7469. Tickets are $42-$72 and the price for students 25 and under is $20.

Symphony Surround is the California Symphony’s signature annual special event and fundraiser where the orchestra performs literally surround guests as they dine. This year, the event takes place at Chabot Space & Science Center on Saturday, June 8, and includes a bonus performance in the planetarium featuring a quartet of California Symphony percussionists. Tickets and information available here.


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