During his tenure as Percussive Arts Society president, (2003-04) Mark Ford decided to commission a second percussion concerto from composer Joseph Schwantner.
1. Mark was thinking about the 50th anniversary of PAS in 2011 and the idea from any perspective was a good one.
The Thursday evening premier was set aside exclusively for PASIC and though not full, the Hilbert Circle Theater audience was large and of course enthusiastic. There was electricity in the air. I doubt the percussionists of the Indianapolis Symphony, Braham Dembar, Paul Berns, Craig Hetrick and Jack Brennan will ever again play before a more supportive, friendly and appreciative group of concert goers.
The soloists did not disappoint. Nor did their colleagues conducted by Hans Graf 2. who gave what to my ears was a very clear reading of Schwantner’s work.
Schwanter is an impressive orchestrator. His concerto requires virtuosity of scope: subtle, nuanced touches combined with moments of power and complexity.
Until the end of the third movement all of Schwantner’s sounds were meticulously formed and set within skillfully made structures. Then for whatever reason, he decided to give the piece over to improvisation.
What happened at that moment was disastrous. The soloists sat behind plastic buckets and began a Stomp including hoots and hollers. Craftsmanship had morphed into salesmanship and the pitch was much too long and grossly at variance with its context.
On a signal, the orchestra entered once more with Schwanter’s music and the concerto came to an end. Though the audience gave a long standing ovation, their celebratory occasion had been given a double whammy of whimsy and self indulgence.
The Schwantner concerto would have been fine as written, without the improvisation. A revision would be simple and would save the work.
1. Schwantner’s first Concerto for Percussion was written for Christopher Lamb and premiered 6 January 1995 in New York City with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Slatkin.
2. Hans Graf, (b.1949) Is currently the conductor of the Houston Orchestra.