Rhythm drives PSO concert featuring Copeland concerto Rhythm drives PSO concert featuring Copeland concerto BY ELIZABETH BLOOM
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE
FEBRUARY 20, 2016
PHOTO BY ANDY TERZES
PHOTO BY ANDY TERZES
Rhythm drives PSO concert featuring Copeland concerto Rhythm drives PSO concert featuring Copeland concerto BY ELIZABETH BLOOM
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE
FEBRUARY 20, 2016
You don’t get to see a long chain of per­cus­sion in­stru­ments lin­ing the front of the Heinz Hall stage ev­ery day.

Then again, you don’t get to hear Stew­art Co­peland, the for­mer drum­mer of the rock band The Po­lice, per­form with the Pitts­burgh Sym­phony Orches­tra ev­ery day. In the post-Po­lice era, Mr. Co­peland has com­posed sym­phonic works, film scores (“Wall Street” and “Rum­ble Fish” among them) and mu­sic from other genres.

As one of the four com­poser-per­form­ers fea­tured in the cur­rent PSO sea­son, Mr. Co­peland joined the sym­phony and con­duc­tor Mar­celo Leh­ninger Fri­day night for the world pre­miere of “The Ty­rant’s Crush,” his con­certo for drum set and per­cus­sion. In ad­di­tion to Mr. Co­peland on drums, the three-move­ment work show­cased the ter­rific PSO per­cus­sion and tim­pani sec­tions. Per­cus­sion­ists Andy Ream-er, Chris Al­len and Jer­emy Bran­son joined Mr. Co­peland out front, and prin­ci­pal tim­pa­nist Ed Stephan played the tim­pani in their usual spot. The work fea­tured a large per­cus­sion setup of var­i­ous mal­let in­stru­ments, drums, and aux­il­iary per­cus­sion in­stru­ments, along with a large or­ches­tra.

“The Ty­rant’s Crush,” a pro­gram­matic piece, fol­lows the rise and fall of a dic­ta­tor­ship — a theme fa­mil­iar to the com­poser, who grew up in the Mid­dle East and whose father worked for the CIA. The plot did not ap­pear to be par­tic­u­larly lit­eral, and three epi­graphs in the score (and pro­gram notes) ab­stractly de­scribe the sce­nario of the work.

It was no sur­prise that rhythm was the main force driv­ing the piece — not only for the so­lo­ists, but also for the whole or­ches­tra — and de­spite the storyline, it had an op­ti­mis­tic, cin­e­matic qual­ity. The per­cus­sion­ists had to mi­grate among a wild dis­play of in­stru­ments, but they man­aged to ground the vi­sual spec­ta­cle with se­ri­ous skill. (Any­body who thinks playing the tri­an­gle is easy should hear the tri­an­gle trio in the open­ing move­ment.) Mr. Co­peland, who is ob­vi­ously a tre­men­dous drum­mer, re­mained locked into the groove, threw in his own riffs and, sit­ting to the side, did not draw any more at­ten­tion to him­self than the other so­lo­ists.

But per­haps that be­came the work’s short­com­ing. A con­certo ought to show­case the in­stru­ments, but with so many solo parts shar­ing the spot­light, the piece seemed to un­der­mine it­self, un­clear about where mu­si­cal at­ten­tion should be paid. And the mel­o­dies didn’t help fo­cus it. Despite some ap­peal­ing tex­tures and vir­tu­o­sic so­los, it was hard to fol­low the mu­si­cal storyline.

The sec­ond half cen­tered on Shos­tak­ov­ich’s Sym­phony No. 1 and Mr. Leh­ninger, the mu­sic di­rec­tor of the New West Sym­phony in Cal­i­for­nia. The con­cert marked the Bra­zil­ian-born con­duc­tor’s first ap­pear­ance with the PSO.

Shos­tak­ov­ich’s work is one of the most in­trepid first sym­pho­nies in the canon, with its au­da­cious so­los, uninhibited char­ac­ter and no-holds-barred treat­ment of themes. Mr. Leh­ninger em­braced the score’s te­na­cious­ness. The or­ches­tra re­sponded with equal verve, ev­i­denced by the bur­nished tone of the full or­ches­tra and vivid sec­tion play­ing. (Fol­low­ing the con­certo, the per­cus­sion­ists and tim­pa­nist re­turned for the sec­ond half and were daz­zling.)

On the mar­gin, Mr. Leh­ninger’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion and tem­pos could be cu­ri­ous. The un­yield­ing speed of the open­ing move­ment, for ex­am­ple, glossed over de­tails hid­den in the tran­si­tions among the themes. Other mo­ments, such as prin­ci­pal obo­ist Cyn­thia Koledo DeAlmeida’s un­usu­ally quiet solo in the third move­ment, showed how such in­ter­pre­tive choices could suc­ceed.
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