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How Pat Metheny's Guitar Music Became a Percussion Concerto for the Philadelphia Orchestra

Jessica Griffin/Philadelphia Orchestra
The Philadelphia Orchestra's Principal Percussion Christopher Deviney

A classical percussionist takes on the music of jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has the story of a concerto for vibraphone and marimba, arranged by Christopher Deviney, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal percussionist.

Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Percussion Chris Deviney talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis about the music of Pat Metheny, which he's arranged in a concerto for vibraphone and marimba. An instrument new to the orchestra stage, the MalletKAT, makes an appearance in the third movement.

The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcast on Sunday, August 1st at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1, and on Monday, August 2nd at 7 PM on WRTI HD-2,  features Imaginary Day, Duo Concerto for Vibraphone, Marimba, and Orchestra, based on the music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, and orchestrated by Chris Deviney. Chris Deviney and She-e Wu are soloists. Bramwell Tovey conducts. Details here.

Pat Metheny’s music uses guitars, vocalists, percussion, keyboards, and synthesizers to mimic even more instruments. Percussionist Chris Deviney could hear an orchestra—particularly in three works. Informed by different cultures, from Irish folk to flamenco, are The Awakening, Across the Sky, and The Heat of the Day.

"At times, symphonic string sounds, brass, woodwinds," he says. "They’re synthesizing sounds I play with every day in the Philadelphia Orchestra."

This is my personal tribute to Pat...Any Pat Metheny fan at the concert will get a kick out of hearing a similar Pat Metheny sound in a piece written for vibraphone and marimba.—Chris Deviney

Pat Metheny

And so Deviney arranged the music for orchestra. The three Metheny pieces became three movements of a concerto for vibraphone and marimba. There’s also an instrument new to the orchestra, called a MalletKAT. 

Chris Deviney playing the MalletKAT.

"It’s a MIDI controller in keyboard percussion form and I’m hitting rubber pads that are loosely shaped just like black and white notes on a piano keyboard," he says, demonstrating on the instrument.  "But the sound is coming from my laptop computer. You can program it to sound like anything you want it to. In this case, I’m programming it to sound like a signature sound of Metheny's guitar synthesizer."

Chris Deviney demonstrates the sound of the MalletKAT, programmed here to sound like Pat Metheny's guitar synthesizer.

"New sounds, and new sound concepts, and new ideas should always be part of the exposure for a great ensemble that has hundreds of years of repertoire," says Deviney.  "To add new stuff just seems natural to me."

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.