Dave Hollinden
what clarity?
  • concerto for percussion and orchestra (see percussion ensemble version)
  • duration: approximately 18 minutes + cadenza
  • composed in 2000-01
  • premiere: Andrew Spencer/soloist, conducted by Dr. Paul-Elliott Cobbs, with the Tacoma Youth Symphony on May 18, 2002 and with the Central Washington University Orchestra on May 30, 2002.
  • other performances:
    • Tomm Roland, Heartland Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Christopher Stanichar, University of Nebraska, May 2, 2004.
    • Daniel Smithiger, Doctoral Lecture Recital (soloist w/piano), University of Arizona, February 20, 2004.
Listen to Excerpt:
  • play opening section, performed by Andrew Spencer with the Central Washington University Orchestra.
View the score, soloist part, or piano reduction:
Instrumentation for Orchestra:
  • 2 Flutes, Flute 1 doubling on Piccolo
  • 2 Oboes
  • 2 Clarinets in B flat, Clarinet 2 doubling on B flat Bass Clarinet
  • 2 Bassoons
  • 2 Horns in F
  • 2 Trumpets in B flat
  • 2 Trombones
  • Tuba
  • Timpani
  • Percussion(1): 2 Bass Drums, Thunder Sheet, Tam Tam, 3 Cymbals
  • Soloist: see below for instrumentation and notation
  • 1st Violin
  • 2nd Violin
  • Viola
  • Cello
  • Double Bass
Instrumentation for Soloist:
  • Snare Drum
  • 6 Tom Toms
  • High-hat
  • Tambourine with head
  • Almglocken
  • 2 Cowbells
  • 2 Temple Blocks
  • 2 Wood Blocks
  • 3 Bell Plates
  • 2 Brake Drums
  • Metal Pipe
  • Tibetan Prayer Bowl
  • Tibetan Prayer Cymbal
Timbre-staff Setup:
timbre staff setup for what clarity?

About the piece:

The piece opens slowly (mm=44) and quietly, with sparse orchestration and the soloist on snare drum (Introspective). There is a gradual increase in tempo and energy leading to rhythmic dialog between the snare drum and the full string section (Resolute, determinded). This erupts into a full orchestral fff tutti at a ponderously slow tempo over which the soloist performs virtuosic snare drum passage work in double time (With great commotion). This large body of sound eventually collapses, dissolving into a very quiet and softly shaped section for Timpani, pizzicato Double Bass, solo Violin and the Soloist on metal instruments (Spent, vulnerable).

A brief chordal section (Sober, solemn) leads to the second half of the piece, which is based on brisk, angular rhythmic themes and in which the Soloist utilizes the full multipercussion setup in dialog with the orchestra. Sections for full orchestra and Soloist (Bracing, with a sudden burst of energy) and the Soloist with the woodwinds (Playful) are followed by rhythmic passage work for the string section alone (Anxious, demanding), and finally a short duet for Timpani and the Soloist on High-hat (Persistent, determined). The final section (Precise, confident) distills the harmonic and rhythmic elements of the piece by means of rhythmic dialog between the tutti orchestra and the Soloist on a large, low Tom Tom.

Regarding the title:

While the question mark formally makes the title a question, "what clarity?" is actually a statement. It is a response, a reply to the assumption that answers are necessary.

When I first sat down to work on this piece, I was busy with questions about life; questions that ultimately had no answers yet were keeping me fixated. When I finally began putting notes on paper, the questions were still with me, as is evident in the opening of the piece marked "Introspective" in the score.

It was when I put these first notes on paper, however, that my ideas began to develop freely and relationships began to grow in the music. I wrote the rest of the piece without restraint, unencumbered by my earlier questioning. In searching for a title I thought of how the piece came about, of the questions to which I found no answers. In this sense, "what clarity?" reflects how the piece was composed by not needing an answer.


The popularity of Dave Hollinden's multiple percussion solos has resulted in much anticipation for his new compositions. "what clarity?," Hollinden's recent concerto for percussion, was worth the wait. The work is scored for standard orchestra with double winds, strings, timpani and one percussionist.

The first of the two major sections features the soloist on snare drum; the second utilizes a multiple percussion set. In the first part, Hollinden explores and develops many of the subtleties of the snare drum, including various playing areas of the drum, rimshots and playing on the rim. The snare drum solo is very challenging with quick dynamic changes, frequent embellishments and tricky subdivision shifts. This section gradually becomes more dense and builds to an explosive climax before the percussionist moves to the multiple percussion setup, which consists of six tom-toms, two bell plates, metal pipe, Tibetan prayer bowl and Tibetan prayer cymbal, along with other standard instruments.

The second section begins at an extremely slow tempo (quarter note = 32) and has much room for artistic expression. Frequent dynamic changes and prescribed accelerandos and ritardandos predominate. Through colorful orchestration and many complex meter changes, the work grows more playful and the tempo gradually increases toward the percussion cadenza, which is totally improvised. The work concludes with five explosive notes by tutti orchestra and percussion soloist.

Hollinden's new work is very creative and will likely become very popular with collegiate and professional percussionists with its driving rhythms, interesting hemiola and frequent dynamic changes. The orchestral scoring is similarly difficult, which will provide a challenge in synchronizing the two parts.

Reviewed by: Scott Herring
Review originally published: April 2003, Percussive Notes magazine.

Purchase information:
  • Soloist part: $20
  • Piano reduction: $20
  • Full orchestral score: $40
  • Reduced-size study score: $20
  • Orchestra parts: rental (request quote)

Available from: