Music News & Reviews

Percussionist Evelyn Glennie travels light

Riders, the lists of things touring artists require when they arrive at a venue, are notorious for including items like bowls of M&M's with all the green ones taken out. Dame Evelyn Glennie's rider is dominated by gongs, bells and all manner of drums.

"I used to use all of my own equipment all over the world," Glennie said Wednesday afternoon, after inspecting the instruments procured for her concert Friday night with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra. "But after 9/11, the airport security got far tighter. We would find cases had been opened and things had not been put back properly, and equipment was being damaged. I couldn't go on touring like that."

So, she began touring much like a piano soloist whose instrument is provided by the venue. Glennie communicates with a local percussionist — in this case, UK percussion director and Philharmonic principal percussionist Jim Campbell — to gather her gear. And that gives the local musicians a chance to work with the most famous percussion soloist in the world.

Solo percussionist is a job Glennie, 44, planned on when she was a girl in rural Scotland. In her school orchestra, percussionists were given solo shots with violinists, flutists and all the other musicians.

"I arrived at the Royal Academy of Music and started wondering where all the solo percussion players were," Glennie says. "Then it dawned on me: There aren't any. I thought, how am I going to sustain a solo percussion career without a repertoire?"

She got entrepreneurial, scouring the world for percussion pieces and eventually commissioning them. Glennie also garnered tremendous media coverage, pieces often keying in on the fact that she is profoundly deaf — meaning she has limited hearing. It is not a condition that is readily apparent. She reads lips very well and speaks easily with a Scottish accent.

Glennie has said that she hears through other parts of her body, and she often performs barefoot to better feel the vibrations of the music.

The few concessions to her deafness include a note on her contract to "text, not call me," Glennie says.

She has become best known purely as a percussion soloist. She hopes she is blazing a trail.

"I'd like to change the conversation from, 'Can we have a percussion soloist?' to 'Should we?'" Glennie says. She explains that she hopes that the more audiences hear pieces featuring percussion and orchestras, and the more other presenters see the logistics of it, they will become open to having more percussion works.

On Friday night, Lexington music fans will hear Glennie featured in Joseph Schwantner's Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra.

It's a piece that Glennie says puts her in collaboration with the orchestra, particularly as she spends the first and the third movements at the back of the stage, where percussion instruments regularly are.

"It was written for Christopher Lamb, the principal percussionist for the New York Philharmonic, so it is very much about being part of the orchestra and collaboration," Glennie says. "There's the thunder of drums, mallets flying and clean, clear energy."

The central portion of the piece, a tribute to late composer Stephen Albert, brings Glennie down in front of the orchestra.

"It's strong writing and very moving," Glennie says of the work, which she recorded with conductor Leonard Slatkin and the National Symphony Orchestra.

On Friday, she'll be part of a big event for the Philharmonic: Scott Terrell will conduct his first marquee MasterClassics concert since being named as its music director.

No doubt because of the strength of the event and Glennie's star power, only a few tickets remain for the concert.

And no, it is not a star power she uses to make people sort the green M&M's out of the candy dish or anything like that.

"There's enough to be done preparing for a concert," Glennie says. "I don't want to sap anyone's creative energy putting crazy requests on my rider."

Just getting all those percussion instruments together is probably crazy enough.

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