Review: Percussionist Pegher, WV Symphony make for one of the year’s best concerts

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Percussionist Lisa Pegher returned to the West Virginia Symphony Saturday night to perform “The Wounded Healer,” a concerto she commissioned from composer Richard Danielpour.

Percussion soloist Lisa Pegher made a sensational debut with the West Virginia Symphony in 2012 with her performance of Joseph Schwantner’s Percussion Concerto. Saturday night with the orchestra, she burnished her reputation with a stunning performance of Richard Danielpour’s Percussion Concerto: “The Wounded Healer.” Danielpour wrote the concerto for her in 2015.

In four movements, the concerto explores different characters of the healers that the composer says are in each one of us. Each character gets a different set of percussion instruments.

The first movement, “The Prophet,” began with a huge chord from the orchestra with Pegher playing a fusillade of notes on the chimes from a raised platform at the back of the orchestra.

A brief, engrossing dialogue between her and woodwind solos led to her hustling to the front of the orchestra to play vibraphone, crotales (little plate-shaped bells), glockenspiel and a set of four brake drums (a standard percussion instrument over the last forty years). Here Danielpour’s music mixed sounds so that she would play a couple of instruments at the same time almost as if it was a metal, pitched drum set.

For the second movement, “The Trickster,” she moved to the marimba. Here was Danielpour’s best music. Rapid flurries of ideas from the orchestra were quickly absorbed into the marimba with Pegher masterfully rendering the full texture and melodies of the large ensemble into her playing. Pegher is a marimbist of the highest quality.

The third movement, “The Martyr,” drew her back to the metal instruments but without the clanging brake drums. This music was sorrowful and she expressed the mood aptly.

The finale, “The Shaman,” brought her to a drum set and a large bass drum. Integration of the rock drum set into orchestra music is problematic: anything played can sound less than hip without the electronica of rock around it. The drum set works best when it is treated as a multiple-percussion array and the obvious rock influences are downplayed.

Danielpour mostly succeeded. The music had a feeling of compression, like rock (‘n roll) and been crushed into bits and displayed in its most basic forms. Pegher played with lots of snap.

Conductor Lawrence Loh led the orchestra in a tight-knit performance, colorful and rhythmically incisive. A passage in the third movement for four cellos and vibraphone was stunning.

Prokofiev’s vast music for the ballet “Romeo and Juliet” made for a delightful finale to the concert.

The orchestra became a kaleidoscope of musical colors. Loh’s emphasis on color and biting rhythm made the dances vibrant. The final movements were gorgeously etched with expansive textures and teeming emotion.

The concert began with spry performance of Beethovewn’s Overture: “Coriolan.”

The Clay Center had many empty seats, but an enthusiastic crowd. That was unfortunate, because the performance was easily one of the best of the year.

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