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“Khan Variations” by Alejandro Viñao


“Khan Variations” by Alejandro Viñao

Performed by Gwen Burgett

Mallet Selection for this Piece:


Robert van Sice Signature M112

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Soft. Produces a broad sound with tremendous projection that is dark, but not muffled.


Robert van Sice Signature M114

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Medium. The most popular model in the series, this mallet covers the entire range of the marimba and produces a singing sound that is full of life.


Robert van Sice Signature M115

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Medium hard. Bright, but not to the point of “xylophone-like” brilliance.


“For some years I have listened to the Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He was perhaps the greatest exponent of Qawwali, the music of the sufi mystics. This music in general, and Ali Khan’s singing in particular, are characterized by remarkable rhythmic and melismatic subtlety.

The Kahn Variations are a set of 8 rhythmic variations based on a traditional theme from Qawwali music as sang by Ali Kahn. The basic pulse and ‘feel’ of the music has lingered in my mind ever since I first heard the recording in the early 90’s. I developed each of the 8 variations -which are played as a continuous piece- exploring a different rhythmic and melodic aspect of the original theme. However, from the harmonic point of view the piece is rather static, respecting the lack or harmony -in the western sense- of the original traditional theme.

As I look at the score now, I can recognize a range of influences from Conlon Nancarrow, tango music, and my own previous pieces for marimba. All these influences have one thing in common: the articulation of pulse, or multiple simultaneous pulses to create a dramatic musical discourse.”

Khan Variations was jointly commissioned by Bogdan Bacanu, Michael Burritt, Ricardo Gallardo, Eduardo Leandro, Nanae Mimura, William Moersch, Peter Prommel, Gordon Stout, Jack Van Geem, Robert Van Sice, Nancy Zeltsman and Alan Zimmerman, with the assistance of New Music Marimba. Nancy Zeltsman was the “Project Organizer”



Alejandro Viñao (b. 1951) studied composition with the Russian composer Jacobo Ficher in Buenos Aires. In 1975 he moved to Britain where he continued his studies at the Royal College of Music and the City University in London. He has been resident in Britain since then. In 1988 he was awarded a PhD. D. in composition at the City University.

Viñao has received a number of international prizes and awards including the ‘Golden Nica’ Prix Ars Electronica (1992), 1st Prize at The International Rostrum at the Unesco World Music Council (1984) and many others.

Viñao’s music has been played and broadcast world-wide and has been featured in international festivals such as the Tanglewood Festival, the Warsaw Autumn Festival and the London PROMS.

He has received commissions from various performing groups and institutions around the world such as I.R.C.A.M. and G.R.M. in France, MIT in the USA and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

During the 80’s Viñao worked at Ircam at regular intervals and 1987 he was composer in residence at M.I.T. in the U.S.A.
In 1994 Alejandro Viñao was awarded the Guggenheim fellowship in composition. His piece Apocryphal Dances was premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London in 1997. The same year Viñao was invited to Japan to present his music in a Portrait Concert. Later that year, his chamber opera Rashomon was premiered in Germany. This work was commissioned by ZKM for the opening of their new building in Karlsruhe. Since then Rashomon has been produced in Paris, London and Gothenburg.

Following the success of his choral work Epitafios, Viñao was commissioned a new piece ‘La Trama’ for mixed choir and computer by the German Sudwestrundfunk. This work was premiered in February 2003 by the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart.

Alejandro Viñao’s music is characterized by the use of pulsed rhythmic structures to create large scale form, and by a melodic writing which -as in the case of much non-European music- develops through rhythm rather than harmony.
Viñao has written music for a wide range of musical genre including opera, music-theatre, choral, instrumental and electro-acoustic compositions. He has also been involved with the creation of multimedia works, has composed music for some 20 films and produced several radio programs for the BBC.

In recent years Viñao has written a variety of percussion works which are rapidly becoming standard repertoire in the concert hall and in the pedagogical world of the conservatory and the university.

His latest music-theatre work The Baghdad Monologue has been performed in Germany, France, Britain, Sweden, Portugal and Norway, and a new production by Theatre Cryptic will be touring Scotland in 2009 and Mexico and Argentina in 2010 and 2011.

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