The music of Aaron Copland and Sergei Rachmaninoff is on this weekend’s schedule of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, but the big attention-getter at Friday night’s concert in Bass Hall was a piece by a third composer, Jennifer Higdon.
It was the local premiere of her Percussion Concerto, with Colin Currie as the formidable soloist. There may have been those audience members who thought “Uh oh” and groaned inwardly at the idea of spotlighting a group of instruments with such a potential for noise.
If there were, they probably relaxed a little with the first notes. True, there were plenty of loud sounds, but there was great variety, including gently caressing passages and moderate episodes of appealing tones and interesting rhythms.
The stage setup was unusual. In addition to the standard symphonic gear, there was a large array of percussion instruments, including many not usually heard in symphony concerts — items such as Chinese suspended cymbal, sizzle cymbal, crotales, guiro, temple blocks and brake drum (a real brake drum; this isn’t a nickname for something else).
They were divided into groups of like kind, which stretched across most of the stage front. This posed a special problem for the composer: She had to be careful to leave enough time between solo turns that the featured instrumentalist could dash from one group to another.
This Currie did smartly. He is a real whiz, both at the mechanics of percussion-playing and the creation of musical atmosphere. He undoubtedly lost a few pounds; this is clearly a strenuous musical sport. Also very much in the game was the entire FWSO percussion section, who had plenty to do as Currie’s musical assistants.
The piece maintained interest throughout. I particularly liked a soft melancholy episode and a Gene Krupa-like cadenza, which may have expended the most calories.
The percussionists were also heavily involved in Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, which involved some light play — the back row of musicians were lit up, while those in front, and the audience, were dimmed. Maybe someday Bass Hall will spotlight each principal as she or he plays solos.
The final work was Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2. The orchestra has played plenty of Rachmaninoff, although almost always a concerto, not a symphony. At any rate, this went very well, with the strings as a whole and the English horn producing sounds that linger in the memory.
Two more concerts
7:30 p.m. today
2 p.m. Sunday