Drum Solo

Classic Arts Features   Drum Solo
The Dallas Symphony performs Jennifer Higdon's Percussion Concerto, a new work that makes use of 21 different percussion instruments, starting April 6. Pilar Schank talks to the composer.

The Olympics, the Super Bowl, the World Series: these are the events that come to mind when you hear the phrase "athletic performance"‹but a musical concerto? Yet that's exactly what audiences will see and hear when Jennifer Higdon's Percussion Concerto makes its Texas debut at the Meyerson on April 6.

The percussion extravaganza was composed with musician Colin Currie in mind. "[He] was my inspiration. I was thinking about him when I wrote the piece," says Higdon. The composer may have also been thinking about raising Currie's heart rate. Percussion Concerto requires four instrument stations and has an arrangement so complex that Currie literally runs from station to station at some points just to keep up.

But what does it sound like? How about "wave after wave of intense color"? Those are the comments of one reviewer who saw it performed in the fall of 2005. Since Percussion Concerto was commissioned by the DSO, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, audiences in Philadelphia and Indianapolis have already previewed it.

Instead of a 25-minute drum solo, Higdon has delivered a piece using 21 percussive instruments. "It shows off the beauty of percussion," she says. "There are some aspects that are incredibly soft." Higdon's play-by-play continues: "The orchestra percussion section does a lot of stuff with the soloist. It gives them a chance to show off a bit. I don't think anyone's done that before."

Higdon's ultimate goal is to entertain the audience. When she's in the audience during one of "her" concerts, she says, her attention is divided between the performance and the audience. "I'm always aware of their movement and looking to see 'are they engaged?' If they are engaged, it tells me how well I'm doing my job. I'm always aware of the audience. I love watching the audience."

But there was one other person who Higdon needed to fall in love with Percussion Concerto, and that was Colin Currie. Higdon says she held her breath after sending the piece to Currie at his home in Scotland. The verdict: "He said he really liked it. He said, 'It looks fantastic.' I was so relieved he liked it."

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