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Evanston Review, Thursday, February 16, 2006

Father and daughter play world premiere

Clarinet and percussion -- it's not a combination of instruments heard often in classical pieces.

So when the idea arose for a duet between Glenview resident John Bruce Yeh, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's assistant principal clarinetist, and his daughter, award-winning percussionist Molly Yeh, a new work had to be commissioned. The two Yehs will perform with the Northshore Concert Band on Sunday, presenting the world premiere of Duo Concertante for Clarinet and Percussion by Michael Burritt of Gurnee, professor of percussion at Northwestern University's School of Music.

The 12-minute piece was co-commissioned by the band and Glenbrook South High School, where Molly is a junior. "It's a huge honor for us and it's a wonderful challenging piece," John Bruce Yeh said last week, talking on his cell phone backstage during a CSO intermission. "Molly has a lot more notes than I do."

Indeed. The 16-year-old, who is the recipient of the band's John P. Paynter scholarship, will be running back and forth between a concert-size marimba, four concert tom-toms and two bongos. "It's very athletic for her," Yeh said, laughing.

The idea for the piece was first mentioned in a casual conversation Yeh had with Molly's first percussion teacher, Kathy Colson. "We were both in the stands at a GBS football game more than a year ago," he said. "Molly was in the marching band." Colson's husband, Roland, plays in the Northshore Concert Band, and Yeh had been a soloist with the group twice, once with John Paynter conducting and more recently under the baton of current music director Mallory Thompson.

After Molly was named scholarship winner, she and her father were invited to play with the band. "We could have each done a number, but I thought how nice if we could play a piece together -- perhaps commission a piece," Yeh said. "Mrs. Colson said that was a wonderful idea."

GBS band director Greg Wojcik was consulted and the school agreed to co-commission the work with the band. NU's Burritt was well-known to both Yeh and his daughter. "Michael played one of his own compositions with the Midwest Young Artists Symphony Orchestra," Yeh said. "Molly is in that orchestra and she knew his music." MYA, as the Highwood-based ensemble center is known, has been a crucial factor in Molly's musical development, her father said.

And she agrees. She was a member of the Rattan Trio, which won the Fischoff Competition in 2004, the first percussionists to ever to take first prize in that prestigious contest. "And the year before that, we were the first percussionists to ever enter the competition," Molly declared. "MYA is my home away from home," she continued. "That's what got me really started in music. I didn't know where I was going with my percussion studies. I was ready to give it up, then Dad introduced me to MYA. Now I definitely want to go into music professionally."

'Circus' sounds

She is particularly enthusiastic about Burritt's composition. "It sounds like a circus on steroids," she said, laughing. "My dad just walks on stage with his clarinet. It takes forever for my set up."

"There are a lot of influences in my music, including jazz and contemporary," Burritt acknowledged. "And I listen to pop music and play a lot of classical, so this piece is a mix." Putting clarinet and drums together is not such a radical idea, he insisted. "Think about Gene Krupa on drums and Benny Goodman on clarinet in 'Sing, Sing, Sing,'" he said, citing the memorable collaboration from the Swing Era. "We'll have Molly drumming away on the tom-toms and John's clarinet screaming above her. He's a world-class musician and Molly is so smart and such a good player. It was very rewarding to write something for them."

For Yeh, a duo concerto with his daughter will be special. "It's a great joy for Molly and me," he said, then sounding very much like a father, added, "a great joy."

Northshore Concert Band

3 p.m. Sunday Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston


(877) 226-3849