An Uncommon Duet with Timpanist Alex Orfaly

Photo: Alex Baker

More Timpani! William Walton’s Symphony No. 1 features not one but two sets of timpani—a first for timpanist Alex Orfaly in his career with California Symphony.

Donato says you’re really looking forward to FRESH INSPIRATIONS because Walton’s Symphony No. 1 features two sets of timpani and two timpanists, and because you’ve never played this piece before.  Can you tell us more?

The “symphony” is such a ubiquitous title of works we play in a symphony orchestra. I have been very fortunate in my career to have the opportunity to play most of the “hits” from our repertory, and as both a performer and a composer, I am always thrilled to perform a piece I’ve never played in the past.

Also, in general, I am usually the only timpanist on stage. I think in all of my seasons to date with the California Symphony, we have never done a work with two sets of timpani. So yes, it is always fun to be joined by another colleague on my instrument.

We understand one timpanist will play the set gifted by California Symphony co-founder Len Sperry and that you have a new set? Can you talk a little about the experience of getting a new set of Timpani drums?

Like everything else COVID has made complicated with supply chain issues, finding a new set of instruments has been a very complicated experience. I wish it could be a more uplifting story, but due to shipping issues and damaged instruments along the way, it’s one that’s yet to be resolved.

Ask me again in 6 months?

A timpani etude by Alex Orfaly, inspired by pops/movie timpani books, 2020. Alex says the main intention of these etudes is a focus on intonation and pedaling.

What are the logistics of getting two sets of timpani to the Lesher Center?!

Getting timpani to the Lesher center is a process for sure. Obviously it’s not the same as a musician brining a violin or a trumpet. It requires team work, truck rentals and hard work!

Alex Orfaly performing Cinematique Timpani Etude #2, 2020

Why are Timpani not considered part of the percussion section?  What’s so special about this instrument?

Timpani are indeed a percussion instrument. However out of the many percussion instruments generally used with the orchestra, they are the ones with skins, that can play a definite pitch.

So my parts are akin to a simpler version of a double bass part or a tuba part—though I don’t have endless pitches I can play, usually just four at a time. Playing pitches, requires an additional skill of intonation. That means being able to correctly hear where a pitch should be, and hopefully being able to play it in tune with my fellow colleagues on stage.

Donors know you as our annual Paella Party chef (thank you!). What’s the secret behind how amazing your paella aways tastes?!

I am so glad our Paella party has turned into such a success, it’s a fun event. As far as secrets go as to how the paella tastes, there are none. It’s hard work, using high quality ingredients, and the experience of making it for many people multiple times now.

I guess living in Valencia Spain for many years didn’t hurt my efforts either.

Alex Orfaly performs Walton’s Symphony No. 1 at the California Symphony’s FRESH INSPIRATIONS, May 20 and 21 at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. Tickets are $49-$79 ($20 for students 25 and under), available online or through the Lesher Center Ticket Office at 925.943.7469.


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