Eugene Weekly : Music : 2.12.09

Can We Get a Drumroll, Please?
Symphony teams with composer, percussion master
by Suzi Steffen

A composer who rebelled against her rock’n’roll loving parents by blasting Beethoven in her bedroom and whose work is performed everywhere. A barefoot Scottish percussion player who’s a dame of the British Empire — and deaf, to boot.

Jennifer Higdon

The Eugene Symphony’s got a lot cookin’ this month when composer-in-residence Jennifer Higdon — she of the rebellious nature, the striped cat and the bond with outgoing Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero, meets Dame Evelyn Glennie for the first time. Glennie is slated to play Higdon’s Percussion Concerto, which Guerrero says “will showcase Evelyn’s virtuosity.” 

The concerto, which has spread like wildfire across the country’s symphonies since it premiered in 2005, reflects Higdon’s status as the most performed living American composer. “Her music is very exciting and energy-driven,” Guerrero says. “There are wonderful colors, lots of notes; it’s moving very quickly and immediately gets the audience excited.”

Higdon says she’s happy to come back to Eugene for the week, where she was composer in residence a few years ago as the Symphony performed her Concerto for Orchestra. “I have fantastic memories of Eugene, and I had a great time talking to the community,” she says. She calls the Eugene audience sophisticated and says we’re lucky to have Glennie, whom she’s never met before. “I think I’ve got all of her CDs,” Higdon says. 

In the Percussion Concerto, Glennie performs in front of the orchestra. “There’s quite a bit of back and forth between the back of the orchestra and the front of the orchestra,” Higdon says. “It’s refreshing that Glennie’s made percussion a more prominent solo instrument.”

Higdon herself is known for her accessible work, and she has some theories about why that is: “I’m constantly asking myself if this is interesting enough, how I can make it more interesting and vary colors so it’s not just the strings playing all of the time.” Besides that, Higdon says, she’s interested in providing  “a clear rhythm and pulse.”

Guerrero says that the Higdon-Glennie combination works brilliantly. Before the Percussion Concerto, the orchestra will prepare the way for Glennie by performing Haydn’s Symphony No. 103, the Drum Roll Symphony, and Higdon’s short piece Loco.

“I guarantee the audience is going to enjoy this concert!” Higdon says. Meet Glennie and Higdon at a talk at noon on Wednesday, Feb. 18, in the Hult Center lobby, and then check out the performance Thursday night. 


Eugene Symphony with Evelyn Glennie. 8 pm Thursday, Feb. 19. Hult Center 682-5000 . $15-$51