NOTES: An Evening of Percussive Delight with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra
The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO)’s debut concert at Carnegie Hall last night showcased the pulsating power and syncopated joy of percussion in a program featuring a heavy dose of Latin American flavor as part of Philip Glass’s residency as the 2017–2018 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair.
One of the irreplaceable thrills of seeing an orchestra perform live is the experience of watching, feeling, and hearing a percussion section. Woodwinds, brass, and strings transfer well on recordings, but nothing compares to live percussion.
Under the helm of its Mexican born Music Director and Principal Conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto, the evening began with a suite from the film score of “La Noche de los Mayas” by monumental Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940). Composed in his final year of life, this four movement suite assembled posthumously in 1960 brims with surprise and percussive explosion, including a dramatic first movement, lively dance-inspired second movement (that sounded like Bernstein’s inspiration for portions of “West Side Story”), intense slow movement, and a grand finale featuring a lengthy segment of asymmetrical rhythmic patterns performed by the 13 piece percussion section, including one player on a conch. The piece highlighted the LPO’s deft use of volume control and set the tone for the balance of the concert.
Two pieces by Philip Glass rounded out the program. “Days and Nights in Rocinha” (1997) is the composer’s “musical impression and tribute” to the Rocinha neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This 23-minute piece is similar to his “Anthem 2” (used as the theme for “The Truman Show”) and Ravel’s “Bolero”, featuring a repetitive, driving beat overlaid by a melodic theme that varies as it repeats and builds, spotlighting different instruments, including, of course, percussion.
The highlight of the evening was Glass’s “Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra”. Composed in 2000, the concerto features 14 timpani helmed by two soloists and backed by the full orchestra. This 24-minute piece employs all the signatures of Glass’s iconic musical vocabulary, with a notable twist in instrumentation. If you’ve never heard 14 timpani played live—and chances are you haven’t—I can report that it is simply thrilling, and underscores the richness of the timpani as a dynamic and finely tuned instrument. At the concerto’s conclusion, the audience gave Mr. Glass, watching from a first tier box house left, a well-deserved standing ovation.
As an encore, the LPO performed the New York premiere of an exciting—and equally as percussive and timpani-heavy—new orchestral piece by Gabriela Ortiz that pays homage to the nightlife of Mexico City. The composer was on hand to celebrate.