Saturday, April 17, 2010.
The trip from Toronto Ontario to Buffalo New York by automobile takes only about two hours and usually includes a visit to the Albright Knox Gallery, which houses one of North America’s finest collections of contemporary Art. But the schedule this day wouldn’t allow for side trips. I was headed for Kleinhans Music Hall to hear Evelyn Glennie, Dame Glennie if you wish, play the world premiere of “Songs to the Banks of Ayr” a concerto for solo percussionist and symphony orchestra by Cleveland, Ohio native Eric Ewazen (b.1954). joAnn Falletta, the Buffalo Philharmonic’s Music Director was conducting.
I wanted to hear this new work by Eric because he had agreed to make an orchestral arrangement of “The Eternal Dance of Life”, a work he had recently completed for Nexus and wind ensemble.
Ms. Glennie’s performance was met with a spontaneous and enthusiastic standing ovation which lasted long enough for her to take three curtain calls. “Songs to the Banks of Ayr” is a well orchestrated, Romantic work in four movements each of which is based upon the poetry of Robert Burns. Eric has a distinct voice and much of the music in this premiere reminded me of the work he had written for Nexus.
Interspersed with brief percussion solos on crotales, Marimba, glockenspiel, vibraphone, xylophone, tom-toms, snare drums and cymbals, were a brilliant Scottish Jig for xylophone and violin which Ms. Glennie performed with the concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic. The day before the premier Ms. Glnnie prerecorded the poetry in her mellifluous Scottish burr; and this was inserted into the performances
It was a pleasure speaking with Evelyn again. The last time we had a chance to converse was after a concert in Toronto when I took her to dinner with James Wilson her former road manager. Evelyn is a gracious woman deserving the appellation Dame. She is also a captivating performer; a charismatic virtuoso musician.
The second half of the concert was devoted to a work I had never heard and was very keen to hear “La Noce de los Mayas”, (The Night of the Mayas) by Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940). This work requires about 10 percussionists and it must be noted here that the contracted percussionists for the Buffalo Philharmonic all studied in Cleveland at one time or another. The extra percussionists for the Revueltas work were all students of Cleveland Orchestra percussionist Tom Freer.
Earlier in the day there had been a “Day of Percussion”. My friend and colleague from the Rochester Philharmonic, eminent percussionist and educator John Beck and Dr. Kay Stonefelt, percussion instructor at the New York State University of Fredonia whose percussion ensemble had performed, were in attendance and it was a delight to see them both again. Beverly Johnston, one of the percussion instructors at the Faculty of Music in Toronto had performed some marimba solos earlier in the afternoon.
The pleasures were not over. Backstage I heard voices calling my name, and there was Tom Freer and Keith Aleo; Tom proudly taking photographs of his students with conductor Falletta. I had last seen Keith in Atlanta where we were judges for Tom Sherwood’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Contemporary Snare drum Competition. I also met Allison Bent who was studying with Freer at the Cleveland Institute and that night had played quiro in “La Noce de los Mayas”. Allison had played in my percussion ensemble at the University of Toronto and for the last two years has been working towards a masters degree at the Cleveland Institute.
A small reception with an open bar followed the concert. Lauren Vogel Weiss and her husband Ron Weiss had flown in from Dallas and through Ms. Glennie’s assistant had arranged our complimentary tickets to the concert. Eric’s mother, uncle, nephews and other relatives attended the premiere. A couple from Louisville, Kentucky had driven to Buffalo at the suggestion of joAnn Falletta. My wife and I spent some time reminiscing with them about our days in Louisville when I played with the Philharmonic. Surprisingly, we had known and remembered some of the same orchestra members. I thanked joAnn Falletta for her programming and performances. She, in turn, spoke enthusiastically about the quality of the evening’s percussion playing. “La Noce de los Mayas” is a great work, and was superbly played. I must search out a recording.
The next day, Sunday, the program was repeated.