Evelyn Glennie, percussion soloist
Albany Symphony Orchestra
David Alan Miller
When a composer and soloist, conductor and orchestra are all at the top of their game, the only result is that audiences rise to their feet. That’s just what happened during Saturday night’s concert of the Albany Symphony Orchestra at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.
An immediate standing ovation and five solid minutes of applause followed the performance of John Corigliano’s “Conjurer” a concerto for percussionist Evelyn Glennie led by David Alan Miller.
With his typical flair for drama, Corigliano gave a particular mood to each of the three movements and restricted the soloist to three families of percussion instruments — wood, metal and skins. Nevertheless, the wide apron of the stage was crammed full of hardware (as well as two dozen microphones for a recording). A natural showman, Glennie made the most of it.
But Corigliano’s objective was to write music, not make choreography and he succeeded beautifully. For most of the 35-minute piece, the orchestra is just strings. In the opening, they had a slippery sense of pitch in contrast to the hard, defined sounds of marimba and wood blocks.
The strings cast an angelic aura around the haunting and elusive melody of the second movement, which recalled both Bernstein and Barber (no better Americans to steal from). During the theme’s final iteration, as Glenie was both striking and bowing the vibraphone, the succession of up and down motions resembled the interaction of a sewing machine’s needle and bobbin.
The finale was all drums, though not as loud as expected or feared, and even somehow felt personal to the soloist. That was one of the composer’s objectives, to keep the piece closer to the tradition of violin concertos than one more long episode of anonymous banging.
Corigliano — a remarkably youthful 73-year old — will be back for a full week in May, when Miller and the ASO will perform another work by him to complete a disc for Naxos.
Having a debut after something by Corigliano seems as unenviable as taking the podium after Bill Clinton. But after intermission came the premiere of “Travel Lightly,” by Juilliard student Conrad Winslow. It was a scenic, boisterous and bumpy ride with little sense of having a preset itinerary.
Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 “Prague” ended the night. Usually after the ASO has spent most of the night immersed in new works, the classics arrive with unusual heft and vigor. But this time there was accuracy and flair as well.
Originally appeared in the Times Union.
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