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Author Topic: Percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie with the Pittsburgh Symphony  (Read 1011 times)
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« on: January 19, 2012, 02:41:41 PM »

Another one of my long winded and overly detailed reviews!  Busted  But this one also has very strong Celtic Woman contentand asks a musical / philosophical question as well!  Shocked

Rachmanioff’s Symphonic Dances - Heinz Hall Pittsburgh - Jan 14, 2012
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie

   I had heard about this concert in advance via a promotional mailing from the Symphony but didn’t decide to go until the last minute. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend more money after already purchasing tickets for 6 Celtic Woman concerts and Natalie MacMaster in 2012. Plus I am still hoping Carrie Underwood tours and comes here this year. And Idina Menzel will also tour and may come here, and that could be a PBS pledge type of event. But I read on Facebook that Evelyn Glennie would be doing a signing and that’s a chance to add another cool autographed photo to the collection. Plus I am really addicted to this concert going / live music hobby. So I decided to check on tickets to see what was left and how much it would cost. A 4th row center seat for only $50, so I decided to go.
   I arrived at the show VERY early so needed to kill some time. Walked around a bit outside but it was cold. Looked at the BIG posters outside the theatre and thought how I would have loved to have had the Celtic Woman posters that hung there just about 6 weeks ago. Guess I inquired about acquiring those a bit too late. They opened the doors at 7pm so I went on in and loafed a bit. Finally had a chance to walk around the venue a bit to see what was upstairs and checked out the view from the cheaper seats. It wasn’t too bad. I may have to buy cheap seats next time just to see a concert from WAY up there. I think those seats are only $20 for some shows.  Then I headed to the merchandise table and it had a DVD of Glennie so I bought that. It could be interesting. The merchandise lady reminded me that Glennie would be signing after the show, and I told her that I brought pictures in anticipation of that! Then something hit me. She said ‘after the show’. Usually guests sign at intermission. Then I thought “oh well no big deal, whatever”. Then headed  on into my seat.
   As I entered the seating area, I had a flashback of my last concert there at Heinz Hall just 4 weeks ago. Celtic Woman joined our Symphony to perform a Christmas show. Of course the stage looked much different for this show tonight. No Christmas Trees and a full Symphony on stage. Glennie’s percussion equipment was set up on the left side in front. It extended all the way across up to the concert master.  A lot of symbol or gong like things extending up to maybe 5 or 6 feet high, sort of like a wall,  plus several long table like devices, maybe 3 or 4 feet high ( where you would strike the tops)  with metal pipes going down to the floor. I didn’t see any conventional types of drums, like snare or bass. The conductor stand was in the middle as one might expect., to the right of the percussion instruments.
   So time comes for the start of the show. I had an older couple to my right and no one to my left. In fact, I could easily see a LOT, and I mean a LOT, of empty seats. VERY VERY different from the sold out standing room only Celtic Woman show 4 weeks ago! The crowd, what there was of one, was quiet all night. But there would be a good reason for that.
   The show started with the Symphony doing Ravel’s Mother Goose and could best be described as ’sedate’. I thought people were going to fall asleep. I thought Ravel could be exciting, like with Bolero. Maybe its just me associating that work to Bo Derek? But anyway, the guest conductor did a few gestures to try to harness some showmanship, but he didn’t have the energy that other conductors often show. You know the types, that look like they just drank WAY too much coffee right before the show. Plus the crowd had many older folks in it, as one might expect at a Symphony (though I did see a few cute little kids all dressed up!) But this show looked like it was going to be a REAL snooze.
   One interesting thing happened though during that first third of tonight’s performance. At one point, the concert master alone made a sort of chirping noise with his violin, and then another musician responded. Almost like a bird communicating with another bird. Its hard to explain. But interesting and different.
   So then a guy came out to introduce Glennie. He composed the music for the second third of tonight’s show, entitled Spirit Voices,  which was Glennie’s performance. But he said some joke like “ A rule to follow, if you are going to give a speech to introduce someone, never follow Ravel” or something like that. A few people laughed. This poor guy had to talk to a snoozing crowd.  He warned us to expect the unexpected! UH-OH! Well that didn’t stir many people. Although this guy tried to be lively, he wasn’t. Not everyone can be energetic charismatic speakers. He even had a small page of notes with what he wanted to say, even though his ’speech’ was very very short.  Anyway he left the stage and out came Glennie to do her thing.
   The first thing I noticed was the way she looked. Not exactly like the usual guest performer at a Symphony. She wore black pants and a black top. Her right arm and shoulder were bare, but her left shoulder and entire left arm were in a long sleeve. She also wore eye glasses. She took her position in the percussion equipment area , looked at the conductor, who was now back, right to the edge of the stage (they moved the platform back just before Glennie came out to a position that she could see from behind her equipment). And she started.
   She let out a few yells and yaps as she struck some of the gong like pieces. Vocalizations!? WOW didn’t expect those. She would eventually pick up hammer like devices and sort of stand there a couple seconds, like she wanted to make the audience anticipate something BIG was about to happen! I thought “GREAT! She is going to really STRIKE something!” You know, hence the name ‘percussion’. That’s what I expected from this show. A lot of drum beats, maybe some cadences, symbol crashes, etc. Drums can be very alive and exciting! You know, like Neal Peart of Rush doing YYZ or Nick Bailey in Extreme Rhythm!   Maybe I should have looked up some of her stuff on YouTube before the show? She also made a number of facial expressions and moved in a way to try to be interesting. For example, at some points she sort of walked within the percussion equipment like she was ’sneaking’ around. Another interesting thing was her use of a violin bow like device.  Instead of striking with it, she pulled it along what appeared to be metal pipes and that created a sort of humming sound.  Well anyway there were some very different and very exciting parts to all this, but not as one would expect.
   Then a point came in her show that again was VERY different from normal. She gently struck the one gong. Then waited a few seconds, then struck it again, but easier to produce less sound. Then she waited a little longer, then struck it again, this time with even less force so we could barely hear it. Then she stood there, as if she intended to strike it again. TOTAL silence in the theatre as we watched with anticipation for her to again very gently strike the gong. (Remember that old Heinz Ketchup commercial where you waited for ketchup to come out of the bottle, as Carly Simon sang “Anticipation, Its making me wait”? Also Heinz Hall & Heinz Ketchup!) We HAD to be silent, or we wouldn’t hear it, since we knew from her previous strikes each got softer and softer. Then she smiled and looked at the conductor, who smiled back, and she was done, just like that! Totally fooled us (well fooled me anyway). There was no last strike. The last minute of music was….the sound of silence!
   Can silence be considered music? It was cool how it was done. Very different. And showed that crowd silence could actually be good and a way for a crowd to participate, counter-intuitive as that may be! Music can be defined as organized sound. Yet lack of sound can be artistic and send a message.  This made me think of that part of the movie “The Alamo”, the one with John Wayne. Toward the end, just before the last big attack / last stand, the Mexicans play music, then….silence! All one hears are gentle noises of flags blowing in the wind. One of the Alamo’s defenders says “Whats that?” and another responds “I don’t know, but it SURE is loud.”
   This also reminded me of my very first Celtic Woman concert at the Benedum in 2007. Hayley sang Danny Boy as a solo, and for several seconds after she finished, the crowd remained dead silent, except for a few sniff like sounds of ladies runny noses from crying! Amazing that 2500 people would all remain totally silent like that. Hayley was the show stopper that night. But as good as she was, she didn’t silence a crowd like Glennie did at this show.
   Something popped into my mind during her performance. A quote from the book “This is Your Brain on Music” when the author discussed surprise and anticipation. How musicians do something unexpected to cause ’stress’ in the listeners, then return to normal and that makes the listener happy. For example, on the song “Somewhere over the Rainbow” as a vocalist sings “some - WHERE  O-ver” the change in octave is very strange, but then the sound returns to normal. It shocks the listener, then brings the listener back to the expected.   
   This lead my mind back again to Celtic Woman. I thought of recent discussions on fan forums of Lisa Lambe’s performance on Circle of Life. Some fans, loyal to the Disney version, were somewhat less than impressed by this song on Celtic Woman’s new show Believe. I disagreed, but then I never became familiar with the original version of the song, so I had no preconceived notions of how it should or shouldn’t be done.
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« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2012, 02:43:49 PM »


   My one issue  with the Believe show fell on Lisa Lambe’s version of Black is the Colour. First, I had my own preconceived notion of how that song should be done, having been very impressed with Celtic Thunder’s Ryan Kelly’s performance at their show. It also seemed a strange choice of music for a woman to sing, with the topic being a woman as love of the singer‘s life! That’s different from what we Americans usually hear from female singers  Plus Lil Lambe is so different from what we expect as well. Her predecessors, Orla, Meav, and Lynn, never moved around as much as Lil Lambe. Although they could  certainly dance on songs when necessary, they didn’t spin, jump, or wave their arms like Lil Lambe. She adds a LOT of visual energy to the show. Plus they weren’t as , how to say it, ’flirty’ as Lambe is. Lil Lambe strikes the right balance with being fun and flirty yet not crossing a line going too far with that sort of thing. Plus Lil Lambe also has the theatre background which quickly becomes a very visual difference in her performance, relative to the others. It can surprise those who are familiar with Celtic Woman, and sometimes surprises can cause stress.
   But after I watched this performance on DVD, I quickly fell in love with how Lil Lambe performed both Circle of Life and Black is the Colour. The songs were not only well done, but the visual part of the performance  also impressed me. She likes cameras, and cameras clearly like her. Plus the show’s decision makers selected the perfect camera angles, close ups,  and shots to compliment her on the DVD, which of course is something we fans in a crowd cannot see or do at a live show from the limited view of our seats. I now look back and, where I once thought “I don’t know about that, its TOO different” now I think “That’s fantastic!” (well Lambe-tastic!) Sometimes first impressions are wrong, and different can be VERY good after some reflection time and an open mind.
   So back to Dame Glennie. She was done and we had a brief intermission. I looked at the people beside me and the guy said “That was …  different!“ and smiled. I nodded yes, yet I got the impression he wasn‘t impressed. I went out to the lobby to see if she was signing merchandise and she wasn’t at the table. So it looked like the merchandise table lady was correct when she said the signing would be after the show. I went back to my seat and noticed something strange. A bunch of people where standing right up at the stage, and looking down, like into something. Then I noticed the percussion equipment was gone! So I went up to where the people where and saw that theatre staff lowered the front of the stage area down into the pit and staff were taking her equipment off that platform and storing it under the stage. Then they raised the platform back up to normal position again. Now the left side of the Symphony could be seen by all, unobstructed by percussion equipment. The staff also returned the conductor’s stand back to the normal position one expects to find it in the middle of the stage, a bit farther in from the very edge.
   Something else I noticed at intermission. Several Symphony performers came to the edge of stage to chat with people in the crowd they knew, who had gone up to the edge of the stage to say hi. The musicians all carried their instruments with them! Why not leave them on their chair? I guess they don’t want someone to bump the chair and knock them over. But aren’t they being a bit paranoid? Its not like they are in the army where you always carry your weapon because you can’t lose it, or might need to use it. it’s a Symphony. No one would steal it. And I would think that musicians would be careful around their and other musician’s equipment, wouldn’t they?
   So the final third of the show, Rachmanioff’s Symphomic Dances, started and it quickly became clear that this part would be a bit more upbeat than the first third. One song reminded me a bit of Star Wars battle music! But it also had some slow music as well. I think the older lady sitting next to me dozed off for a minute or two. I noticed something interesting about the one younger lady playing violin. She wore a black leather skirt! Other lady musicians had black skirts or black pants, but certainly no leather. But this lady seemed much younger than the rest and was probably like 50th chair violin.
   The show ended at about 10pm , so about 2 hours from the 8pm start. The crowd gave polite applause, but at first only a handful of people stood up to clap. Then a few more maybe 10 seconds later. Then a few more 5 seconds later. Had a snowballing / cascading kind of effect. Some people remained seated throughout the applause, but I would say that technically they got a standing ovation, though not a unanimous one! Then it was off to the autograph table for the signing.
   Very few people in the line. I took out my 8 x 10 photo that I got off the internet and the guy in front of me said “Did you take that tonight?” I said “ah….no. Even if I had brought a camera, how would I process it so fast?” The one staff guy there, I guess he is the concierge, or one of the head ushers, noted it as well. He has seen me before in the autograph line with pictures like that. He seems to remember seeing me before, yet unsure about it. He also said “Wow that was certainly different. I wouldn’t mind seeing more shows like that.“ Then she arrived wearing a black long sleeve sweater type of top covering both arms & shoulders, so a change from her performance clothes. She also didn’t wear her glasses at the signing.
   The guy in front of me had bought two of her CDs  and had the inserts out. She seemed to take some time signing. Wasn’t the usual quick sign off kind of thing. Then it was my turn. I looked and saw that she only had black sharpies. I anticipated this might happen, so I brought my own silver sharpie as I expected her to sign in the dark area on the photo and the silver would stand out very well.   But once again I got fooled. Another silver sharpie snafu for me! (long story). She signed her name very large, across the entire bottom part of the picture. But on the red and lighter coloring there, the black sharpie would have stood out a LOT better. Plus at first my silver sharpie seemed to be out of ink or dried up. I had tested it before I left home and made sure it wasn’t but of course at the moment of truth, when needed, it didn’t want to write. The concierge said “It might be because of the gloss of the picture”. But she got it done. A very nice effort from her to make a fan happy. She seemed very soft spoken and didn’t say much (reminded me a bit of Lynn). I wasn’t sure about proper etiquette with her. I had never met a Dame before.  Then I started walking away and she said “Oh your pen” and I said “oh keep it you may need it” but she sort of gestured with it like , ‘take it” so I did. A bit of an awkward moment, but nothing too bad.
   In conclusion, I first thought this show was very strange and I wasn’t exactly overwhelmingly impressed. But as I reflect back on the performance, I realize how smart of a show it really was. I still think that the music selection by the Symphony for the first third should have been better. We didn’t buy tickets to come to the show to sleep. Perhaps people knew this, and maybe that, in combination with Dame Glennie’s unique and very different style,  kept some regular Symphony goers at home. But I am glad that I attended. It was interesting and different.    And made me ponder the thought ….Is silence, or lack of sound, actually music when music is defined as organized sound?

A couple more things to note after I wrote the majority of this account.  First, I went on to Dame Glennie’s web page and looked around a bit. In her picture section, theres one of her holding what looks a lot like a fiddle and bow, though its clearly NOT a fiddle. It has a round metal bottom and its circular at that point. Then metal ‘wires’ extend and meet up at the top. Also, on her DVD she mentioned that people often think percussion is just about ‘striking’ something, much like I mentioned in this account of the show. But she said it goes beyond that. She compared it to a vocalist. Its not just voice, it begins with breathing and is a process more than just opening one’s mouth and throwing out sound. And percussion is more than hitting things. The DVD would be of interest to those really into music and percussion, but its NOT a concert. Its very different from what one might expect. Its not for everyone, but for those really interested in the topic, its good. Also, the professional review in the local paper also noted the part in the show about the silence. I was not the only one impressed by that.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/12014/1203572-388-0.stm
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