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Steel pan beats come alive at KenCen

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Entertainment,Music,Marie Gullard

Most touring percussionists depend on the particular concert hall where they are performing to have well-tuned instruments at their disposal. These might include a harp, tympani and the king of them all, the grand piano. Percussionist Andy Akiho's motto is "Have steel pan, will travel."

"I have a show in Princeton, N.J.," he said last week. "Then I come to D.C. for this show, and then I leave for Heidelberg, Germany, the next morning, followed by [a performance in] Miami. I'll be traveling with my pan to all these places."

Steel pan is the preferred term used by Trinidadian players of steel drums; and for as long as he can remember, Akiho wanted to bang on something -- the drums when he was 8 years old and then the steel pan, which he took up in college. Now as a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University, he has been playing and writing compositions for the steel pan as a solo instrument, in duets and in string ensembles.

"At the Kennedy Center [Millennium Stage] performance on Sunday, I'm bringing an incredible string quartet named Mivos with me," he continued. "They are phenomenal players. There will also be a special guest, Ian Rosenbaum, who is going to be playing the marimba. Now that's a huge instrument!"

Onstage
Andy Akiho
» Where: Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW
» When: 6 p.m. Sunday
» Info: Free; 800-444-1324, 202-467-4600; kennedycenter.org; part of the 2013 National Cherry Blossom Festival

Akiho notes that the group will be playing six of his original compositions in Sunday's performance. Almost all will feature a string quartet and steel pan. He also plans one duet with Rosenbaum on the marimba.

"Every piece I write is like a culmination of where I am at that part of my life," he said. "All the experiences, especially outside of the music, are reflected in my work."

Akiho, who has one album of his music published and says he has enough material for five more, is the recipient of many musical awards including the 2011 Woods Chandler Memorial Prize, the 2010 Horatio Parker Award at the Yale School of Music and a 2011 ASCAP Plus Award. His works have been featured on PBS's "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" and by organizations such as American Composers Forum and the Society for New Music.

His wish for the Millennium Stage audience Sunday is simply that they enjoy the music.

"I work really hard when I'm creating these pieces and I just want to share them with people," he said.

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