Joan Tower scores a hit with Strike Zones

I’m a percussionist by training. And I’m an admirer of Joan Tower’s music. So a disc featuring Tower’s compositions for Evelyn Glennie was a must-review for me.

Glennie is one of the foremost percussionists in the world. Her innovative technique is only matched, by her drive to enrich the repertoire. To that end, she has commissioned works from major composers — like Joan Tower.

Strike Zones is a percussion concerto composed for Glennie. Most concertos feature a single solo instrument. This one features a battery of both tuned and indefinite pitch percussion instruments.

Tower exploits the characteristics of these instruments. In doing so, she weaves them into a dialogue with the orchestra. It’s a high-energy thrill-ride, and one I’d love to see live in performance.

Small, also composed for Glennie, is Strike Zones polar opposite. Here Tower confines herself to a small grouping of instruments laid out on a table. Though the music is more intimate, it’s no less exciting. Glennie elicits complex, expressive sounds from simple instruments like tambourines and metal bars.

The album is nicely balanced. After the percussion concerto and solo percussion work, there’s a piano concerto (Still/Rapids) and a solo piano work (Ivory and Ebony). These, too, bristle with energy and excitement.

Pianist Blair McMillen is a tireless performer. His high-octane playing never falters. He carries the listener along on a dizzying sonic journey.

These works were more than just an exhibition of beats. Tower uses her solo instruments percussively. But she also uses them expressively. She makes us aware that one object striking another can create beautiful sounds.

I loved it.

Joan Tower: Strike Zones
Small; Still/Rapids; Ivory and Ebony
Evelyn Glennie, percussion
Blair McMillen, piano
Albany Symphony; David Alan Miller, conductor
Naxos 8.55902

More Recent Posts