Thursday February 22, 2018 10:44 am

First Lady of Percussion


“No percussionist – for that matter, no ensemble of percussionists – has rivalled the accomplishments of Evelyn Glennie… who is to the percussion world what Andres Segovia and Jean-Pierre Rampal were to guitarists and flutists. Like those players, she has devoted herself to showing listeners… that a concert on her instrument can be a supremely musical event.”

- Musical America 2003

Well into the millenium, the world’s top solo percussionist continues to amaze!

She amazes with her superb musicianship. “Perpetual Motion” (the title of one of her albums) personified, she yearly brings her consummate artistry to audiences all over the world (her calendar seems to leave no space for rest!), spritely flitting during performances between percussion instruments of tradition and of her very own – not in the shadowy rear of the orchestra but in the limelight of center stage, producing sounds – sometimes familiar, sometimes of another world – that never fail to mesmerize.

She amazes with her extraordinary sense of touch. Touching is not only her way of playing her instruments; unlike for most of us, it is her way of hearing. To her, hearing is “a specialized form of touch.” Sounds emanating from the orchestra vibrate as waves through the air and she hears them as they reach and touch various parts of her body, e.g., low tones as they touch her bare feet, high tones as they touch her face. It is a way of musical communication uniquely her own, and it works! The end result – performances that forever etch themselves into one’s memory, prized recordings that one can listen to in wonder.

She amazes with her sense of theater. It tells her that music has colors and thus is a lot like painting, that blending the aural with the visual brings a magical dimension to a musical event. Evelyn Glennie is both percussionist AND performance artist. Thus, she dons costumes, uses props, plays with lighting effects, makes surprising stage entries – convinced that music is not compromised, indeed its enjoyment is enhanced, when the concert hall magically transforms into music theater. Nothing wrong with that! Especially when it expands the audience for classical music.

She amazes with her spirit of discovery and her talent for invention. Today she has about 1500 percussion instruments in her collection and often she plays two or three dozen in concert. Yet for her insatiable mind the process of discovering and/or designing new ones never stops. When early on she learned that works for solo percussion were few and far between, she commissioned them and today these works number over 100. These works have received their premieres, with Glennie often working in close collaboration with the composers. One of the latest is Margaret Brouwer’s Aurolecent Circles which premiered in Seattle in November 2002. She also composes her own music which include music for film and television. And thus the repertoire grows.

She amazes with her enthusiasm for music education. She conducts masterclasses for aspiring percussionists (see calendar). And she offers $1000 music scholarships for children with hearing loss. She is a believer in educating the public through the media, taking part in radio and television broadcasts. Her media endeavors include: a Grammy-winning CBS documentary on Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion with the late Sir Georg Solti, Murray Perahia and David Corkhill; Evelyn in Rio, a TV documentary of her participation in the Rio Carnival (released on video by Decca); two major documentaries on her life by BBC and Yorkshire Television; performances in two episodes of BBC TV’s Soundbites, a musical travelogue of Korea (Great Journeys II series).

She amazes as a recording artist. She has recorded 16 solo albums (her latest being Oriental Landscapes with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra), and has won two Grammy awards (see discography). This endeavor will continue as she explores ways to faithfully capture the sound of live percussion on recording media – percussion is most difficult to record, and her level of satisfaction has yet to be reached.

Listen to a clip from the CD Oriental Landscapes: Track 5 – “II. Summer” from Thea Musgrave’s Journey through a Japanese Landscape – Concerto for Solo Marimba and Wind Orchestra (Real Player required. Download now.)

She amazes as a human being – simple, unassuming, warm, friendly, very accessible, humble, never full of herself, a happy soul – blessed with, yet totally unspoiled by fame.

Is it any wonder that she is Musical America’s Instrumentalist of the Year?
- © Gloria Cajipe / FanFaire 2003

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