Chamber concerto for marimba and eight instruments

Instrumentation mba solo/fl/cl/tpt/hn/vn/va/vc/cb

Timing 12′

Composed 1991

World Premiere January 31, 1993, Kulas Hall, The Cleveland Institute of Music, Cleveland, Ohio. Steven Wassmansdorf, marimba, with ensemble; Jeffrey Ryan, conductor

Performances by Vancouver Symphony, Windsor Symphony, Victoria Symphony, Encounters Ensemble (Toronto), Composers’ Orchestra (Toronto), Cleveland Institute of Music, June in Buffalo Ensemble, Sequitur (New York City)

Recorded on Quantum Mechanics: Chamber Music of Jeffrey Ryan featuring Beverley Johnston, marimba

Programme Notes

Two-by-Four is a chamber concerto for marimba soloist and eight accompanying players. The title refers both whimsically to the wooden bars of the marimba and to the division of the ensemble into two groups of four players each. It also alludes to the idea of a “two-by-four” as a foundation in construction. Whether in music or in architecture, these building blocks provide the scaffolding around which the rest of the work is fashioned. Here, this skeleton is represented by the high sustained string sound.

With a nod to Classical concerto form, Two-by-Four is a single-movement work comprised of three main sections, plus an introduction and two cadenzas. The opening clarinet motive generates the basic intervallic resources for the piece, and leads into the slow introduction, which sets in motion the subtle and gradual colour changes that develop through the whole work. The woodwinds and brass foreshadow upcoming elements. The marimba then leads directly into the first (unaccompanied) cadenza, which also encapsulates elements of the later sections. The cadenza segues into the first main section: a slow movement that gradually builds in intensity over a large arch, then subsides into the second cadenza, which is accompanied by the sustained strings and clarinet. The cadenza is frequently interrupted by staccato outbursts from the flute, which the marimba and clarinet eventually join. This leads into the second movement, which is a bluesy moderato, and which proceeds directly into the finale. This concluding presto features rapid-fire solo passages, representing the culminating transformation of the opening motive.


VS percussionist Masako Hockey stole the show with her virtuosic, and physically demanding, marimba playing in Vancouver composer Jeffrey Ryan’s concerto, Two-by-Four. (Sarah Petrescu/Victoria Times-Colonist)

Canadian composer Jeffrey Ryan was best represented by his Two-by-Four for marimba (the ever-sparkling Beverley Johnston) and eight instruments. Ryan’s music spends a lot of time establishing a feeling of anticipation, and while we know we are waiting for something to happen, the context of the wait is constantly changing. When that something comes, it is often out of context, as well. In Two-by-Four he takes us by surprise with a jazz-swing finale. (Elissa Poole/Globe and Mail)

Marimba virtuoso Krik Brundage was featured as soloist in Canadian composer Jeffrey Ryan’s Two-by-Four. … This eclectic composition takes three notes and subjects them to several stylistic makeovers, including some beautiful coloristic writing and an excursion into 1950s-style sultriness, complete with walking bass and finger snapping. This was perhaps the hit of the evening, thanks in part to [soloist Kirk] Brundage’s graceful and altogether accomplished playing, but also to the considerable merits of the piece itself. (Eugene Gaub/Buffalo News)

PDF perusal score

two-by-four score perusal
two-by-four mba perusal


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Score $50 print, $30 PDF
Solo part $7 print, $4 PDF
Ensemble parts $40 print, $24 PDF
Score + parts also available on rental
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