Tower is an American composer, pianist and conductor. She was born near New York in 1938, but grew up in Bolivia. She was also a founding member of the Da Capo Chamber Players, but left the ensemble in 1984 to concentrate on her composing. (For more information on Joan Tower, see here.)
Tambor was written in 1988, on a commission from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The title means “drum” in Spanish – so it’s not surprising that the percussion section is featured prominently. But all sections of the orchestra are treated idiomatically and to colourful effect.
Is it tonal? That depends on what is meant by “tonal,” I suppose. It doesn’t sound like there are many major or minor triads in this piece, and there’s little appeal to the devices of “common-practice” harmony. However, tonal hierarchies arise and submerge – with a fluidity that’s hard to nail to the wall, but that give the notes she writes a sense of direction and purpose.
Here is Tambor, played by the Nashville Symphony, under Leonard Slatkin.
© Colin Eatock 2013