For her first time with the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra, marimba soloist Jane Boxall has chosen Guatemalan composer Jorge Sarmientos’ 1957 Marimba Concerto No. 1, or “Concerto para Marimba y Orchestra No. 1,” Op. 20.
“It’s a very unusual and very cool piece,” Boxall said in a recent interview at Montpelier’s Capitol Grounds.
“It’s three movements with a lot of, what I think of as Mozart-style harmonies in arpeggios all over the place,” the Bristol musician said. “Then it goes into this spooy kind of folkloric native Guatemalan song titled ‘Song of the Indians.’ Then it has more Mozart-y flourishes, and it ends with this very dance-like folkloric melody. It’s got the folk elements of the marimba in a very classical composition framework.”
MCO Artistic Director Anne Decker will conduct the program “¡Viva La Marimba!” at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, at Vermont College of Fine Arts’ College Hall — and the concerts are free.
Also featured is Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s 1941 “Dances from Estancia,” Op. 8a, and the American premiere of Mexican composer Diana Syrse’s 2012 “Colección de Realidades.” Finishing the program is Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759, known as the “Unfinished.”
Boxall, a native of England and Scotland, moved from Illinois to Vermont in 2008, as her then-husband always wanted to live here. They stayed for seven years, spent a couple of years in Nashville, and returned here alone about a year ago.
“Vermont is the place I’ve lived longest (in the U.S.), and it feels like home to me at this point,” Boxall said. “Now I’m living in Bristol and working everywhere, playing in New York City quite a bit.”
Boxall was born in southern England, but moved at age 7 to northeast Scotland, where she grew up on a farm.
“I was really terrible at piano from the age of 5 to 19, but I started playing drum kit and orchestral percussion when I was 11 at school in Scotland,” she said. “I was really lucky, I got to study with (famed solo percussionist) Evelyn Glennie’s teacher. When I got to college, there was a marimba there — a little late to the instrument, but I sort of dived in and made up for lost time.”
At the University of York, Boxall earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music, and went to the University of Illinois-Champagne for her doctorate with William Moersch.
“The (classical) marimba rep is only from the 1950s onward, so I was playing all this new music,” Boxall said. “That’s how I ended up going to Illinois to study marimba.”
With African and South American antecedents, the modern marimba is a xylophone-like instrument with hardwood bars and tuned tubular metal resonators, played with rubber or felt-headed mallets. Boxall’s has a range of five octaves.
“There are a lot smaller instruments, in schools, and folkloric instruments,” she said. “My marimba is 9 feet long and rather heavy.”
For Boxall, there are parallels to the piano, her first instrument.
“When I first got to play marimba, it felt like an amazing wooden piano I could hit,” she said. “The tone, especially in the bass, is very orchestral and rich. I often think the marimba is like many cellos in one instrument. I think it blends well with other instruments.”
Boxall has been half of a piano-marimba duo now for 10 years with a pianist in upstate New York, called the Ricochet Duo. Her career has been mostly marimba, and then drum kit.
“I play with a lot of rock bands and hip-hop artists, commercial music, musical theater,” Boxall said. “I do play all of the percussion instruments. I got a vibraphone when I was in Nashville. I love playing any percussion in a contemporary chamber music context.”
In fact, Boxall performs regularly with Decker’s TURNmusic, and has worked with the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble. Northfield composer Dennis Bathory-Kitsz even wrote her a piece for a child’s floating bath toy and voice.
“I suppose, basically, if an instrument can be hit, I will hit it,” Boxall said.