The first concert of Neeme Jarvi’s final season with the New Jersey Symphony displayed everyone’s strong suit. The well-made program had intrinsic interest and a distinct descriptive thread: ‘Four Sea Interludes’ from Britten’s Peter Grimes, a volcanic percussion concerto-cum-symphony by Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür with soloist Evelyn Glennie (high priestess of the show-biz percussion recital), and Elgar’s Enigma Variations.
Jarvi gave Magma, Tuur’s high-voltage Symphony No. 4 from 2002, its North American premiere, even though it was its tenth performance. Like most pieces commissioned by Glennie, it has elements of rock and minimalism (to which percussion lends itself) and it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing it. House lights went down, and three percussion setups were both spotlighted and underlighted.
Glennie makes the most of the visual aspects of percussion. In an unusually subdued blue dress and bare feet (which help her feel vibrations because of a partial hearing impairment), she moved with a dancer’s grace and performed with dazzling skill. She started and ended with a complex red setup on the left, where a Plexiglass screen shielded orchestra members (pushed to the rear) from the decibels of metallic objects.
Red- and blue-lighted marimba and conga drums were found stage right. In the middle was a jazz setup where Glennie sat for the second movement. In a jazz concert the heated cadenza would have been the solo lick drawing a burst of applause. The symphony’s explosive finale recalled the storm scene in Grimes.
At intermission Glennie signed CDs, including her recording of Magma on the Virgin label. Her 2005 DVD, Touch the Sound, traces her partial loss of hearing in her teenage years and her success at working around it as it improved. She speaks clearly with a Scottish accent and joined a post-concert talk with Tuur and the audience.
The New Jersey Symphony takes its concerts to cities in the central and northern parts of the state, but this October performance was in Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center, its home base. The orchestra has made a steady musical climb over many years—to which Jarvi, with his penchant for advocacy, has contributed his share. At present, it is a first class regional orchestra of noticeable precision, with medium tonal richness and resonance. Each piece in this concert got better as it grew in volume and excitement.
The concert concluded with the Elgar, a kind of concerto for orchestra with different moods for each friend portrayed. The orchestra had the showy orchestration under its belt with solid contrasts between the noble ‘Nimrod’ and the delicate (though draggy) ‘Dorabella’ variations. Jonathan Spitz, the reliable longtime first cellist, had a high spot, as did stylish timpanist Randall Hicks in a passage with brass.
Jarvi likes sweet encores: Elgar’s ‘Salute d’Amour’, one of his staples, fit right in.