Ladislav Bilan, Jr. (*1994) was born into a musical family. “I began playing percussion instruments at the age of three, initially by imitating my father, who is principal timpanist with the Moravian Philharmonic in Olomouc,” Bilan informs us. He later graduated from the conservatoire in Olomouc, where he was taught by his father.
At the age of thirteen, Mr. Bilan won the audition for a position in the Moravian Philharmonic in Olomouc in 2009, becoming its youngest ever member. He has been studying at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague since 2014. That same year he was chosen by Jiří Bělohlávek to perform the Concerto No. 1 for Marimba and Orchestra by Ney Rosauro at an open-air concert on Hradčany Square as part of the project “Play with the Czech Philharmonic”. Amid tough competition he was one of six chosen from among 120 talented youngsters. He has played in the Czech Philharmonic Orchestral Academy. “Thanks to that, I had the chance to appear with the orchestra at New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Musikverein in Vienna, for example, and I also got to play a special concert with Sir Simon Rattle and Magdalena Kožená, who sang Luciano Berio’s Folk Songs”, says Mr. Bilan, summarising his experiences. In 2020 he earned a master’s degree at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and was admitted to the same school’s doctoral programme. He is currently completing his studies with the Belgian marimba player Ludwig Albert. He made an appearance at a Prague Spring alternative programme in 2020 at a concert streamed live from the Liechtenstein Palace.
“I’m beginning my recital in the way I usually do, with a solo composition for snare drum, specifically a composition titled Meditation No. 1, which differs from the other pieces on the programme in many respects,” says Mr Bilan. While performing the work, the player achieves a wide range of diverse effects by playing with his fingers on the head of the drum in combination with drumsticks.
Another number on the programme is Flying by the Taiwanese marimba player Chin Cheng Lin. “He finished the composition in 2005, and just two years later it was included on the list of optional compositions at the 2007 Universal Marimba Competition in Brussels,” the young musician reveals.
For the composition Rite of Passage, Mr Bilan has invited his colleagues from the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague to join him on stage, and each of them will be in charge of a diverse set of percussion instruments. “In the score, the marking above one section is ‘brutal’. I can attest that ‘brutal’ is a truly fitting description”, he says with a laugh.
This will be followed by Marimba Moods for 8 Mallets by marimba virtuoso Ludwig Albert.
After the interval and after Bilan’s short Intro the musicians will all come together in the second half for the composition Tin Play by Per Andersson. “This is a very difficult piece, in which each of the four players is surrounded by a prepared array of both percussion instruments and (as the title tells us) all kinds of metal cans and bars,” Bilan comments.
After this Mr Bilan returns to the snare drum – not the classical concert instrument, but instead the marching snare drum in a composition titled Skyscraper by the American player Danny Raymond. “It is one of the technically most difficult compositions for snare drum. For a start, the player has to grapple with completely new ways of holding the drumsticks,” Bilan explains.
The marimba is the focus of the following piece Variations on Dowland’s Lachrimae Pavane by Japanese instrumentalist and composer Keiko Abe, namely variations on the well-known “tearful” pavane by the Elizabethan author.
The evening will culminate in a romantic tango by Argentinian composer Ástor Piazzolla entitled Verano Porteño, arranged for marimba by Pius Cheung.