The JOHN PSATHAS PERCUSSION PROJECT is an expansive, multi-year collaboration with a mission to reimagine works from John’s compositional oeuvre entirely for percussion instruments. This idea spawned from a version of John’s piano and gamelan piece Waiting: Still, which I re-worked into a percussion trio for my 2013 album, The Gaia Theory. John enjoyed the arrangement enough that he asked if I would be willing to arrange a few more works of his that he felt would also make great percussion pieces.


In the five years since then, while having the privilege of collaborating with New Zealand’s most prominent composer, I’ve also been able to make music alongside some of the best percussionists in the country, whom I also count as some of my best friends. I cannot express enough appreciation for their commitment to coming back year after year for recording sessions because of their love for this music (as it certainly was not for the money or the glorious rooming accommodations)!


In particular, I’d like to thank Brian Nozny for his editorial and musical advice throughout the process of arranging and recording these works. Of course, the biggest thanks of all goes to John Psathas himself, for allowing me a small glimpse into his musical genius by letting me be a steward of his work. Thank you John for all the years of collegiality and friendship! — Omar Carmenates




Corybas is the first of two companion works Psathas wrote for piano trio—the other being Aegean—which has been described as a postlude to Corybas. An exciting aspect of writing Corybas was getting my head around a particular dance groove found in Macedonia, which is in 17/8 time but divided into measures of 7/8, 6/8, and 4/8. It’s a fantastic groove but it takes some work to internalize it. I had to play with this groove in a way that would keep performers from going crazy because of the amount of variation and syncopation on top of the 17/8 meter, otherwise the material would be stressful and unsatisfying to play instead of exciting. I’m very happy about Corybas because I think I got the balance right in this respect. Once performers internalize the underlying meter, I see a transformation take place, and they love to play it.   — John Psathas


Piano Quintet

The Piano Quintet was written during the millennial changeover. It is inspired by and reflective of four composers who have influenced me: Arvo Pärt, Alfred Schnittke, Jack Body, and Johann Sebastian Bach. There is a fifth element of inspiration functioning here also: the collective ‘composer’ made up of a great many unknown musicians who live in the folk music traditions of the Greek Islands. This island music has always moved me in both its simplicity and refinement. The Piano Quintet is dedicated to Jack Body. — John Psathas


Drum Dances

Originally commissioned by Dame Evelyn Glennie for drum kit and piano, each of the four dances is stimulated by a certain rhythmic interaction possible between the performers. The work is heavily influenced by jazz and rock music, particularly that of the late 1980s and early 1990s. I was greatly inspired by the drumming of Dave Weckl, the very different piano styles of Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, and the enormous energy in the music of guitarists like Steve Vai. — John Psathas



Originally written for guitar, the majority of this arrangement has the vibraphone carrying the melodic burden of the piece with the marimba providing the rhythmic and harmonic accompaniment. Along with the general “Spanish” feel of the work, this arrangement resulted in a sound reminiscent to me of the classic duets of Chick Corea and Gary Burton off of the Crystal Silence album.


This is all perhaps best summed up by a coincidental quote from the percussionist Tyler Tolles, who gave the premiere performance of the work: “It sounds like [Chick Corea’s] Señor Mouse and Spain had a love child!” — Omar Carmenates


Matre’s Dance

The title refers to a dance performed by a character in one of Frank Herbert’s Dune books. The dance was non-repeating and exhausting for the dancer, who often collapsed or died before completing the extremely long, complex routine. Created during an intense eight days, and actually commissioned as a violin solo, this was the first piece which suggested to me I might have some future in composing. Following its premiere, Matre’s Dance passed from my hands into Evelyn Glennie’s and has now seen much more of the world than I will ever manage to. — John Psathas



For a country that is home to me in so many ways, Greece has not been so kind to this particular absent son. Practically every journey I have made there has left me with a permanent reminder of some unpleasant and often bizarre experience.


An expedition to Greece in 1998 brought an unprecedented onslaught of bad luck, this time involving my wife and son. My dear, concerned sister went to the village expert in such matters to discover if I was afflicted with the evil eye (also known as mal occhio, or jettatura). Jettatura is the ancient belief that the gaze of strangers casts unwanted magic into the lives of the innocent. The belief is that a person — otherwise not malefic in any way — can harm you, your children, and your livestock, merely by looking at them with envy and praising them. The soothsayer, when checking my aura by long distance, gasped, went silent, and declared I was so heavily and completely hexed that my halo was utterly opaque.


In Greece there is a talisman one can wear, or place in a car, house, or shop, which protects against the evil eye. This talisman is in the form of a glass blue eye, a “good eye.” Jettatura, written upon returning from Greece, is my talisman, my good eye.


This piece is dedicated to my sister Tania, who tried in her own way to protect her kid brother from jettatura. — John Psathas



Aegean is the second of two companion works Psathas originally wrote for piano trio, the other being Corybas. The works were commissioned by Ian Graham as a birthday gift for his wife Agi Lehar-Graham (in the original manuscript Psathas adds a little wordplay to the work’s title, spelling Aegean as Agi-Ian), and in grateful recognition of the New Zealand Chamber Soloists (NZCS) Piano Trio (Katherine Austin, Lara Hall, and James Tennant).



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