Jennifer Higdon: Percussion Concerto
Composed in 2005, Jennifer Higdon’s exciting Percussion Concerto has received very high acclaim from the media and from audiences around the world. Throughout the 20th Century and beyond, the growth of the percussion section is far more vast than any other section within an orchestra. Higdon writes in her program notes that the concerto follows the standard dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra, however Percussion Concerto goes that step further by accentuating the relationships between the soloist, the orchestra and the percussion section.
This particular concerto was written for percussionist, Colin Currie, and the work is also dedicated to him. Higdon claims that the use of percussion opens up a lot of possibilities for a composer. She uses instruments such as the marimba, vibraphone, drum kit, chimes and cymbals which give many dimensions to the work. The mix of pitched and non-pitched instruments also makes this concerto incredibly exciting as some sections focus on the pitch aspect, for instance when the vibraphone is playing. However, there are some sections which go the opposite direction and focus on timbre and rhythm, for example the drum kit.
The work begins serenely with only the marimba playing. A dialogue is then established between the soloist and the percussion section. Only after this conversation is established does the orchestra enter. With luscious melodies and a menagerie of movements from the soloist, the work goes from being accompanied by a full orchestra, to just being a dialogue between the percussionists. There are many twists and turns within this concerto which is what makes it the most exciting for me.
There is a slower lyrical sections, which requires a lot of communication between the strings and soloist. The fast section returns before the outstanding cadenza section, which showcases the soloist and percussion section. The extensive use of non-pitched percussion instruments are used, with the drum kit being at the forefront. An explosion of sounds and timbres are heard before the return of the orchestra, who bring the beginning theme back until the eventual conclusion of the work.
Percussion Concerto was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and was first performed in 2005, with Colin Currie as the soloist. An incredibly diverse, musically rich and exciting work.
Ⓒ Alex Burns