Classical Album of the Week: Deaf Percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie Shreds Her Mallets
June 28, 2021. Imagine you’re an 8-year-old girl from a small town in Scotland, and one day, suddenly, you can’t hear your mother calling you. Within four years, you become profoundly deaf. And yet, you have music in your bones, and you’re determined to become a musician. How are you going to make this impossible dream happen? If you are Evelyn Glennie, you don’t just find—you blaze—a way. Thirty years ago, Glennie became one of the first percussionists to forge an international solo career. Her latest release, a series of three 21st-century mallet concertos written for her, shows the energy, sensitivity, and daring that have won Glennie, 56, audience acclaim and innumerable awards, including three Grammys.
The album, released in 2021 by Naxos Records, features Glennie in partnership with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, conducted by Jean Torel. It opens with the Marimba Concerto of 2004 by American composer Alexis Alrich.
The substantial three movements of Alrich’s work compel the listener with convincing musical arcs based in minimalism, and punctuated by Asian and Western folk influences. Alrich convincingly showcasea the resonant palette of sound that Glennie evokes from her marimba.
Welsh composer Sir Karl Jenkins is best known for the serene “Benedictus” from his The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace. His offering on this album is regal and austere. Jenkins re-imagines Archangelo Corelli’s concerto based on the famous ancient Spanish tune La Folia (Follies of Spain) in a stately, spare series of variations. The exposed string writing is softened by arpeggios, tremolos and a Baroque-inspired cadenza from Glennie’s marimba.
Pulitzer-winning American composer Ned Rorem contrasts four different instruments in his Mallet Concerto of 2003. The searching, sometimes barbed, and often plaintive lines from winds and strings are taken up by Glennie’s glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone and xylophone in conversational and virtuosic playing. This is a true dialogue between the soloist and orchestra with whimsical titles to the 7 movements, like “Another Minotaur,” “Tag,” and “A Xylo-Waltz.”
Throughout this album, Glennie brings brightness, boldness, and subtlety to her sound, and a give-and-take with the orchestra that results from her unique and profound way of listening.