Percussionist Glennie joins Tucson Symphony Orchestra for musical thrill ride

2013-04-18T00:00:00Z 2013-04-18T12:39:07Z Percussionist Glennie joins Tucson Symphony Orchestra for musical thrill rideCathalena E. Burch Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Whatever happened to the villainous troublemaker Alberich in Richard Wagner's epic opera trilogy "The Ring"?

He went on to become a rock star.

Or at least that's one alternative theory floated by American composer Christopher Rouse's percussion concerto "Der gerettete Alberich."

Rouse, who wrote the piece in 1997 for world- renowned percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, prefers to call the work a fantasy on themes of Wagner, casting the soloist as Alberich. And while it does not completely answer the question of the evil dwarf's fate, it gives you wiggle room to imagine.

"It absolutely is a thrilling piece of music. It's really a roller coaster ride," said Glennie, who will perform it this weekend with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. "It's like stepping on a train and not knowing where it's going to take you."

Glennie, making her first Tucson appearance in more than a decade, starts the piece with a pair of gurrus, which create a scratchy, scraping-like sound depicting Alberich waking up and brushing off life's debris. Throughout the 22-minute piece she alternates between tom-toms, temple blocks, bass drum, congos, bongos and snare drums. During the more contemplative passages, she turns to the marimba and the steel pan, which you don't hear often in orchestras.

Then there's the drum set that she beats on like a rock star; here's that alternative theory in action.

"Christopher has done such a great job with the orchestration with the percussion writing," Glennie, 47, said during a phone interview from her home outside London last week. "It's good interaction between the soloist and the percussion section. It's really an exciting piece."

Glennie, who has been deaf since childhood and plays barefoot to feel the vibrations, was the world's first full-time percussion soloist. Her career has included guest appearances with orchestras around the world. At last summer's London Olympics, she played the opening ceremonies, introducing the world to the aluphone, a 2 1/2-octave instrument made of varying sized hand-molded aluminum bells that create gentle almost ambient tones.

It is the latest instrument in her arsenal that fills a large room in her office. During her phone call, conducted with an interpreter, Glennie said the collection is "like a candy store in a way."

"The thing about percussion is that it is accessible for young and old. ... It's very inclusive," she said. "You can adapt percussion to anyone's needs"

TSO principal timpanist Kimberly Toscano has followed Glennie's career since she was a percussion student. She said she can't wait to share the stage with her.

"She's a virtuoso of the percussion family. That's the word that comes to mind when I think of her," said Toscano, who will be among the TSO percussionists playing alongside Glennie this weekend.

"I've had her recordings for years," said Toscano. "When I was a student and working on solo repertoire, I would buy her recordings and study her techniques. Her natural aptitude for the instruments is outstanding and I think God-given. But then you've got decades of skill-building. I think she's gotten even better over the years."

Glennie, who also designs and collects jewelry, said she is excited to return to Tucson. If she has downtime, she plans to scout around for more jewelry to add to her collection.

"In my last Tucson visit, I bought a few pieces because I like to collect jewelry much as I do percussion instruments," she said.

If you go

• What: Tucson Symphony Orchestra 'Titans.'

• Featuring: Guest percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie.

• When: 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

• Where: Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.

• Cost: $26 to $79 through tucsonsymphony.org or by calling 882-8585.

• Program:

Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries."

Rouse's "Der gerettete Alberich."

Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D major "Titan."

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@azstarnet.com or 573-4642.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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