The Eastman Percussion Ensemble (EPE) recently traveled to Shanghai, China to perform in the International Percussion Education Association (IPEA) Festival! We sat down with Professor of Percussion Michael Burritt, who leads the prestigious ensemble, to reflect on this amazing experience and talk about the benefits of performing outside of Eastman.
The Percussion ensemble recently performed a concert at the IPEA Festival at the Shanghai Conservatory in China. Can you tell us about the IPEA Festival?
The IPEA was formed by percussion leaders in China and is hosted by the Shanghai Conservatory. It comprises of musicians from the international community which includes representatives from Europe (France, Germany, Switzerland, to mention a few countries), Japan, Korea and the USA. The organization hosts a festival every other year that includes an international percussion competition that is quickly becoming one of the most respected in the field. The competition draws international young artists from 18 to 35 years old. In 2021, Oliver Xu from Eastman was awarded third place in the competition, making him the first American to place in the final three!
The Festival also includes masterclasses and a series of very prestigious evening concerts in the beautiful Shanghai Opera House. This year, the five concerts included the top three finalists from the 2022 IPEA Competition; the 3 finalists from the Tromp International Percussion (the most prestigious in the world), the winning ensemble from the Luxembourg Chamber Competition in 2022, and the Eastman Percussion Ensemble.
Who makes up the Percussion Ensemble? Can you share a bit about the group’s history?
The ensemble for this trip included six students and myself. Typically, the Eastman Percussion Ensemble is comprised of third- and fourth-year students along with graduate students enrolled in the school. The ensemble was established by Professor John Beck and during my tenure has won the Percussive Arts Society International Percussion Ensemble Competition three times (2013, 2017, 2022). EPE has given showcase concerts at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, The Paris Conservatory International Percussion Festival, and The Kennedy Center. This ensemble has commissioned and premiered works by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Joseph Schwantner, GRAMMY-winning pianist and composer Billy Childs, and other internationally recognized composers such as John Psathas and Alejandro Viñao.
What repertoire did the group get to perform?
Our program included several Chinese premieres and a world premiere. We performed Pillar I by Andy Akiho, my new work Tuscany, and Joseph Schwantner’s Fast Forward. Current Eastman student Austin Keck ‘22E, who is now studying film scoring presented his new work, Evanesence. The concert, performed for a capacity house, received a rousing standing ovation and the organizers of the festival said it was the most successful concert ever in the history of the IPEA Festival!
This group has done a lot of traveling, can you talk about the benefits to students from this type of exposure, travel, and music-making?
The opportunity for us to bring our students to this prestigious event is an unparalleled experience. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The students were able to experience what it felt like to be a professional ensemble performing for the concert going public on an international stage. They were rock stars for a night, how much better could it get? It’s not an exaggeration to say that the ensemble has become the preeminent group in our field and a flagship for the studio.
Shanghai was also a fantastic platform to show off what we do at Eastman in front of some of the most respected and well-known percussion pedagogues and performers from all over the world.
I am thrilled we were able to provide this kind of experience for our students at Eastman. They will never forget it. The Eastman Experience should be a priceless one and this is another example of the kind of unique and world-class opportunities we provide our students.