The first piece of western classical music to be scored for an ensemble comprised solely of percussion instruments

Frank Zappa is not your most likely fan of French composer Edgard Varèse. And yet, the American rock guitarist and composer was obsessed with this composer’s music and who has in turn influenced his own compositions.

IONISATION - Distant echoes of industrial noise will be held at
Teatru Manoel, Valletta on October 27 at 8 p.m..
Tickets at €15 can be booked via e-mail on or from the box office on 2124 6389.

On October 27 a concert paying homage to Varèse as well as to his musical influence through the music of Cage, Stockhausen and Zappa will be held. 2015 marks the 50th anniversary from Varèse’s death and The Modern Music Days (MMD) concert series will celebrate Varèse with the performance of Ionisation - the first piece of western classical music to be scored for an ensemble comprised solely of percussion instruments.


One of the reasons why many people consider Zappa a visionary rock artist is because the ideas he was using in his music came from 20th century classical music, most significantly the music of Varèse. As a result there is a whole generation of rock fans that were exposed to the music of Varèse because Zappa would go as far as having a flutist on stage during his concerts to play Density 21.5 for solo flute by Varèse as part of the show.


The music of Varèse also had a strong influence on many important 20th century composers such as Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Olivier Messiaen, Luigi Nono, Krzysztof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke and Karlheinz Stockhausen, among others.


The other works in the programme include Credo In Us for piano, percussion, sampler and video by Cage, Tierkreis for percussions, piano, synthesiser and video by Karlheinz Stockhausen; Stinkin’ Garbage for 12 percussionists on garbage cans by Ed Argenziano and a percussion arrangement of Zappa’s Echidna's Arf (Of You).

Ionisation for 13 percussionists is the centre-piece of this programme. This work was composed between 1929 and 1931, after Varèse had moved to America at the age of 32. Varèse was living in New York and this new urban soundtrack deeply affected the aural experience of the composer. However, rather than simply reproducing these sounds, Varèse incorporates distant echoes of industrial noise into his composition liberating the music from the rigor of conventional melody, harmony and rhythm. One might expect Ionisation to be a boisterous anarchy of noise. Yet the composer controls the instrumental palette, achieving an understated grace and eloquence of expression. What is remarkable about this piece of music is the degree of sensitivity which reaches far beyond the predictable use of percussion. In Ionisation, Varèse abandons all notions of melody and harmony in order to create an intricately detailed soundscape with subtle undertones and meticulous musical texture.


This concert is one of the events within the MMD concert series organised by the Malta Association for Contemporary Music in collaboration with Teatru Manoel as part of the Valletta 2018 Cultural Programme in the run up to the European Capital of Culture year. A whole century of avant-garde music seems to have passed us by, unnoticed by concert venues in Malta and subsequently by our audiences. MMD is on a mission to correct this shortcoming by programming events that establish new heights in the promotion and understanding of 20th century and contemporary music.


The staging and performance of Ionisation in Malta is more than just a recital. It is a project that connects local musicians with international artists to support professionalisation - the opportunity to master specialised techniques in 20th century repertoire. The first challenge with Ionisation is to round up 13 classically trained percussionists. Such a high number of percussionists simply do not exist in Malta.


Seven local musicians will have the opportunity to attend a one-week master class/rehearsal schedule with Italian percussion ensemble Ars Ludi. The musicians will be able to perform this work but more importantly they will learn the necessary skills and gain insight into how to tackle this repertoire. Thanks to the Music Programme of the University of Malta, percussionist Rodolfo Rossi from the Ars Ludi ensemble will be training the Maltese musicians in September supported by Erasmus+ project in preparation for this project.


Writer Thomas May describes Ionisation as being “at once expansive and intimate, ugly and irresistibly beautiful: Ionisation combines the terrifying cacophony of the industrial world with a profound sensitivity, unlocking the sensuous, human potential of
inhuman noise”.


October 27th - 2015







+356 7930 8412