The Wichita Symphony is ready to shake it up. More than 50 drums, cymbals and wood blocks will rumble on the symphony stage next weekend.
Internationally revered percussionist Colin Currie will play Jennifer Higdon’s Grammy Award-winning “Percussion Concerto.”
“We are in for a big treat,” said Daniel Hege, the symphony’s music director and conductor. “It’s going to be very exciting. It’s something that’s slightly out of the box because it’s rarely seen.”
Scottish percussionist Currie will line the front of the stage with dozens of drums, marimbas and triangles. Dressed in solid black and wearing rubber-soled shoes, he’ll jump from vibraphones to brake drums to glockenspiels as the concerto progresses.
“He’s just a phenomenal musician,” said Gerald Scholl, the symphony’s principal percussionist. “He brings so much to the piece.”
Currie recorded this work, which was written for him, in 2008 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The piece begins with Currie gently playing his favorite instrument, the marimba. Soon the percussion section joins in, forming a dialogue with Currie. The piece shifts from lyrical to exuberant, eventually erupting in a dynamic cadenza with Currie and the four percussionists. The orchestra flows in and out, weaving around the drumbeats.
“This piece is very expansive and dramatic,” Currie said. “It basically celebrates the world of percussion and the excitement of the symphony orchestra fused together in one piece.”
Scholl, also director of the percussion department at Wichita State University, performed this piece with Currie in Colorado. In addition to the dialogue between the soloist and the percussionists, he said, there is a completion of phrases. While Currie rests on a couple of beats, the percussion section finishes the rest of the rhythmic line.
“This is a well-written, beautiful and exciting work,” Hege said. “Currie is one of the most hip, charismatic young performers in classical music today.”
Hidgon’s award-winning work is bookended by two masterpieces: Felix Mendelssohn’s “Fingal’s Cave Overture” and Robert Schumann’s “Symphony No. 1.”
Part of Mendelssohn’s nine-minute work was written after his 1829 visit to remote Scottish islands. Mendelssohn believed that music, not words, were how his visit should be explained.
“This is truly one of the great overtures,” Hege said. “This piece was one of the first of its kind in that it doesn’t tell a specific story, but the way it sets the mood is an early example of where program music eventually went.”
Mendelssohn, although only 20 when he began this classic composition, illustrated feelings of isolation, grandeur and contentment.
“It is the physical sense that makes you feel that intensity in the music,” Hege explained. “He’s using the storm as a metaphor.”
Originally titled “Spring,” Schumann’s first symphony is full of joyful rhythms as well as intense depth. Hege describes this work as a study in contrasts.
“Schumann can feel the empathy for anyone else who has ever experienced the lows in their life,” Hege said. “It reaches out and takes ahold of you.”
But the playful lightheartedness also sweeps through the dialogue.
“Schumann wrote his music like it was a play or literature,” Hege said. “The way the themes interact with each other are similar to the way characters interact with each other.”
This work serves as a contrast to Mendelssohn and Higdon’s works.
“It is as though he (Schumann) takes something that existed in some celestial sphere and puts it down on paper. It seems otherworldly,” Hege said. “It speaks to us very deeply.”