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August 9-15, 2006

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Phaedra

Mallets Aforethought: Evelyn Glennie's percussive performance brought the crowd to its feet at the Cabrillo Festival.

Cabrillo's Beat

Evelyn Glennie provided the beat for the first weekend of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music

By Scott MacClelland


THE BAREFOOT STAR of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music's first purely orchestral program was the irrepressible percussion virtuoso Evelyn Glennie. She gave Marin Alsop's vivacious Saturday night program an extra sizzle that brought the Santa Cruz crowd to its feet more than once. Glennie, petite and hard-of-hearing, made a delicious stir-fry of Kevin Puts' riotous Percussion Concerto, composed for her in 2004.

As hard as it is to imagine anyone keeping up with the blistering pace Glennie sets for herself, Puts kept her busy with material for xylophone, glockenspiel, crotales, tubular bells, chimes and marimba. But not all was high-speed virtuosity and volcanic display; a delicate passage on glockenspiel, doubled on orchestral celesta, held everyone's breath.

In his fourth year in a row as a Cabrillo composer in residence, Puts' success lies in his formal structure, tonal chord progressions and preference for pitched (keyboard) percussion. In one long arc, the 25-minute piece falls into clearly discernible sections that owe a debt to classical models. He uses the baroque device of ritornello—repetition—to separate sections or to change mood or instrumentation. A big "Rachmaninoff" melody on the strings, with tremolo marimba, gives the piece its romantic high point.

Following the Puts, Glennie returned for the 12-minute Konzertstück for Snare Drum and Orchestra of 1982 by Icelandic composer Askell Masson, a solo tour de force, opening and closing with ominous portents on the orchestra. The huge solo cadenza demands a seamlessly paced accelerando and diminuendo which Glennie executed with superhuman precision.

The program opened with the West Coast premiere of Transitive Property of Equality, composed in 2003 by Laura Karpman, one of Alsop's fellow Juilliard alumni. Lasting 12 minutes, the single movement uses large orchestra with tape and plays for fun with mathematical equations. Like a time machine, it invokes ghostly quotes from such of Karpman's favorites as Dvorák, Beethoven and Mozart, plus bits from Rossini, Mussorgsky, Wagner and Tchaikovsky.

Like Karpman and Puts, Michael Daugherty was also present to hear his H.G. Wells-inspired Time Machine in its own West Coast premiere. Here, Daugherty contends programmatically with past and future in the present, with three orchestras and conductors—in this case, Alsop and two of her accomplished students, Carolyn Chi-An Kuan and Jeri Lynne Johnson—that play in different tempos and time. In two separate movements, Past and Future, lasting about 20 minutes, the scoring adds considerable percussion, rain sticks, anvils and glass harmonica effects to large forces in colorful and, in the closing moments, dense textures.

In Past, the effect of the three orchestras—Alsop's strings playing in long-held note values while the other two played quicker wind and brass passages—sounded a little like 13th-century organum but out of time. Future established a kind of dialectic between the serene—with harp and shimmering crystal glass tones—and aggressive forces of heavy percussion. This music could work well in a sci-fi movie, and probably make its composer wealthy in a hurry. Three presentations of a Frans Lanting slide show the previous weekend sold out in record time. It used previously composed music by Philip Glass orchestrated by Michael Riesman, who described it during a Q&A session as "a work in progress."


The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music run through Aug. 13 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium and other venues. See www.cabrillomusic.org for schedule details or call 831.420.5260 for ticket details.


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