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VSO concert emphasizes Philip Glass, "Scheherazade"

sbirkenmeyer@vagazette.com

The Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s latest concert mixes up its repertoire with a concert celebrating the contributions of composer Philip Glass and the continued relevance of “Scheherazade” March 9-11.

The VSO’s guest conductor for the concert, Eric Jacobsen, said the program exudes color from start to finish as it features the likes of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” and the “Concerto Fantasy” by Glass. The event places emphasis on drums as timpanists Michael Laubach and Rob Cross take center stage in front of the orchestra at large for the tribute to Glass, known for his minimalist style and contributions to film scores such as “The Thin Blue Line” and “The Illusionist.”

“Philip Glass is a hero of mine,” said Jacobsen, co-founder of the New York City-based Knights orchestral ensemble. “I think he’s obviously one of the greatest and most respected composers of our time. The timpani concerto is such an interesting piece for handfuls of reasons.”

He lauded the composer’s decision to place emphasis on the drumming, typically relegated to the background. He said the focus not only leads to a captivating sound, but an exciting visual component as well.

“I think the piece is both an aural fantasy and also a visual one,” Jacobsen said. “It really changes the dynamic of the orchestra.”

Cross, who also works as executive director for the Virginia Arts Festival, said he and Laubach have been practicing for the performance together for several months. He hopes the audience will come to appreciate percussion in a new light.

“You’re hearing very different things. That will definitely be an adjustment,” he said. “We’re usually in a supporting role in the orchestra, so it’s fun to be featured once in a while.”

Laubach, who will be making his first solo orchestral debut with the concert, said Glass implements percussion in surprising ways.

“One thing that I find fascinating about Philip Glass is the rhythmic techniques that he uses,” he said. “I’m hoping they also get to see a little bit more flash than they're used to from my particular instrument.”

The concert also highlights “Scheherazade,” Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1888 symphonic suite inspired by one of the Middle Eastern folk tales of “One Thousand and One Nights,” in which a cunning Persian queen evades death through her storytelling.

“It’s one of the most picturesque, visual, programmatic pieces in the orchestral repertoire,” Jacobsen said, praising the piece’s vibrant romanticism. “I think it also is an opportunity for members of the orchestra to solo in such beautiful and concerto-esque ways.”

Cross said “Scheherazade,” combined with the rest of the concert’s pieces, offers variety for the audience.

“That’s one of the top 10 pieces in the repertoire,” he said. “You’ll get something new and something classic.”

Jacobsen expressed excitement as he prepares for his first time working alongside the VSO.

“It’s such a great group,” he said. “The reputation of the group is really, really strong.”

Want to go?

The VSO performs the concert 8 p.m. March 9 at the Ferguson Center for the Arts, Newport News, 8 p.m. Saturday at Norfolk’s L. Douglas Wilder Performing Arts Center and 2:30 p.m. March 11 at the Sandler Center, Virginia Beach. Tickets start at $25, available at tickets.virginiasymphony.org or by calling 892-6366.

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

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