Review: Currie, ASO debut sensational percussion concerto

Review: Julia Wolfe’s sensational percussion concerto, “riSE and fLY,” with the equally sensational

Who knew that clicking fingers, slapping thighs and stomping feet could break new ground in the realm of classical music. Julia Wolfe’s sensational percussion concerto, “riSE and fLY,” with the equally sensational Scottish percussionist Colin Currie, got its U.S. premiere Saturday night with the Albany Symphony Orchestra at the Palace Theatre.

The 25-minute work isn’t for any percussionist. It needs an athletic, agile and master player, who can use his body to create not just enticing rhythmic patterns but different qualities of sound from where he hits his chest to how hard he stamps on the floor. The second part of the work had Currie at a kind of drum kit made up of found objects like an oven rack or washing tub and the more predictable of a cymbal or a wood block. Here, Currie used his sticks to rattle off streams of patterns.

Backing him was an orchestral score that used sound for effect rather than as melody or harmony. Wolfe wanted to reflect urban folk music, so much of it sounded like New York City traffic with its hums, horns blaring and Latin rhythms that ranged from calm to raucous. It was all unpredictable. Amplification of Currie made him always audible.

The piece, which Currie had commissioned, suited him. He sizzled and made his patterns sing. Music director David Alan Miller led a focused orchestra clearly in the zone.

The rest of the program was prosaic in comparison. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ “An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise” (1984) was supposed to be a musical picture of a Scottish wedding, but the orchestra didn’t seem too comfortable with the tight Scottish ornamentation. But concertmaster Jill Levy attacked her solo part with a confident flair. The fun part was at the end when Highland piper David Weeda in red plaid kilts walked down the aisle to the stage playing his pipes.

Mendelssohn’s lushly gorgeous Symphony No. 3 (“Scottish”) (1842) had the orchestra sounding mellow and centered, with Miller opting less for subtlety than for richness of tone. The first movement had a vigorously turbulent and swirling energy. The second movement was vivacious and light highlighted by the orchestra’s strong technical playing, which was both clear and accurate. Miller got some nice lift to the phrasing in the third and good ensemble in the finale.

The next ASO concert will feature tubist extraordinaire Carol Jantsch of the Philadelphia Orchestra on Feb. 21 and 22.

Categories: Entertainment

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