Music review: Glennie percussion piece, Sibelius symphony highlight ASO concert

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TROY — There’s nothing like a live music concert to take one’s mind off a cold night.

So it was no surprise that a close-to-sold-out audience was totally into hearing the Albany Symphony Orchestra Saturday night at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall deliver the goods.

Music director David Alan Miller chose three hugely different works with one that featured international percussion star Dame Evelyn Glennie. Because of her participation, the entire lip of the stage in front of the orchestra was filled with a full panoply of percussion instruments.

But first it was the world premiere of Harriet Steinke’s “Harrietlehre.” A third year student of composer Christopher Theofanidis at Yale, the work was her first for an orchestra and the first the ASO has ever played. As she told the crowd, she based the work on a “few small ideas” that she repeated within the same seven- measure phrase.

It started out bubbly and playful and slowly added some brass or drum, or offset the rhythmic figures with long tones in a scalar pattern.

Volume increased within staggered sections like heavy plodding footsteps. That ebbed then returned, then a few notes from a lone xylophone or marimba ended it all. The crowd loved it and the orchestra was expert throughout.

Composer Kamran Ince then introduced his own Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra. He wrote the five-movement work for Glennie, who premiered it in 2019 in Istanbul. Besides the usual xylophone, marimba, cymbals, small drums, he also wrote for two Turkish drums called a Davul (a small bass drum played on both sides) and a Darbuka (an hourglass-shaped drum placed between the legs).

As expected, Glennie was a force of nature as she pounded, tapped, coaxed each instrument through various volumes, intensities, speeds and rhythms with mallets, sticks, brushes.

The work is a study in contrasting timbres and how wide those inflections from the various instruments can stretch. Glennie, who is profoundly deaf, always instructs her listeners to discover new ways to listen. And the orchestra, who was totally in sync, and the audience, which was rapt, complied. An enthusiastic standing ovation was given.

As the finale and in more comfortable listening zones, Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 was presented. After a 1915 premiere, which underwent revisions to become the three-movement work audiences know today, it’s a romantic, often dramatic work.

Initially, the orchestra took a bit to settle into a tonal center after playing the Ince score. But they did come together for the first movement’s mellow harmonies, soaring strings, the deep tones of the lower brass and Miller setting strong forward momentum. The second movement was lighter, more delicate with more commentary among sections.

The finale was glorious and the orchestra sounded wonderful. The restless strings set up the famous horn section, which played in thirds, in a motif that was oft repeated in other sections. Supposedly, Sibelius wrote that motif having been inspired by sixteen swans suddenly taking off all honking. A marvelous imagery. Meanwhile, the woodwinds were playing beautiful melodies and the volume and orchestral intensity kept growing only to step back for a delicate moment only to surge again to the last several chords.

The crowd jumped to its feet clapping loudly.

The next ASO concert is Feb. 11 at Proctors.


Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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