Manitoba Chamber Orchestra & Dame Evelyn Glennie

Date and Venue 19 September, 2009 @ 8pm | The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

Reviewer John Jane

Seeing this Scottish, virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Glennie performing on the concert hall stage is almost as inspiring as listening to her music. Hearing impaired since the age of twelve, she “listens” to her accompaniment by feeling the vibrations through her bare feet on the stage floor. Dame Evelyn’s hearing is something that intrigues her audience far more than it affects her.

It’s her precise execution and acute sensitivity that make up her distinct musicality. Extended percussion streams can get quite monotonous, but her remarkable dexterity, articulation and deep understanding of the music never allows her audience to become bored.

The Aberdonian musician’s technique was particularly evident on Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for Piccolo Recorder in C major transcribed for the vibraphone by Dame Evelyn herself. It was a total success. Her vibrant performing style brought appreciative applause.

With Dudell’s Snowblind, Dame Evelyn demonstrated that a good percussionist can be simultaneously leader and follower. The work is full of dramatic gestures and is scored for paramount colour and percussive effect. Her solo marimba playing in the first two lyrical movements was perfect, and so was the accompaniment of the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Maestra Anne Manson.

Mirage? (the question mark is deliberate) is a new work commissioned by the CBC for Dame Evelyn Glennie and the Manitoba Strings Orchestra. It’s a moody, jazz inflected piece, more evocative of the depression era United States mid-west than the sunny Mediterranean landscapes of composer Christos Hatzis’ homeland. The percussionist was, as ever, at the top of her game, integrating the organic sounds of the vibraphone with the cerebral strings of the orchestra.

It’s the symphonic extremes that are a feature of Dimitri Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony, Opus 118a. Originally intended for a string quartet and later adapted for orchestra by Rudolf Barshai, this final selection of the evening was played by the twenty-member chamber orchestra without the collaboration of the featured percussionist. Relentless in its technical demands, the sombre first movement Andante was followed by the aptly named Allegretto furious with its volatile rhythms. The final movement, the two-part Allegretto Andante drew extensively on russian folk melodies.

Maestra Manson also inspired a committed and compelling reading of Jose Evangelista’s nine tone poems that form Airs d’Espagne in the first half of the concert.

Good musicians love to play the Chan Centre with its perfect acoustic architecture. The problem is encouraging people to drive out there. With concert audiences dwindling in these financially troubled times, I found it surprising that UBC now adds to the misery by charging concert patrons seven bucks for event parking. Get real folks!.

© 2009 John Jane