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What the Timpanists Had to Say for Themselves
November 23, 2000

By PAUL GRIFFITHS

After two hours of music that strove to say a great deal at the American Symphony Orchestra's concert on Sunday afternoon (Ernst Krenek's Second Symphony and Harold Farberman's "Millennium Concerto"), Philip Glass's "Concerto Fantasy" for two timpanists and orchestra was welcome for saying just a little and doing so directly, strongly and with abounding good humor.

Most of the front of the Avery Fisher Hall platform was occupied by 14 timpani of different sizes: quite a kitchen of gleaming copper. And the two soloists, Jonathan Haas and Svetoslav Stoyanov, had outfits of burgundy and silver-black as smart and snappy as their music-making.

Much of the fun of the piece came from their sportsmanship, and also from Mr. Glass's recognition that a concerto for timpani could not be altogether serious. Since the instruments are stuck in the orchestra's bottom register, they appear as soloists like people trying to express themselves by means of thumps and shudders. But what timpani lack in pitch range and distinctness they make up in power.

Characteristically motor-driven and simple, Mr. Glass's new work sometimes gives the impression that its thunderous soloists, often with the support of cellos and basses, are trying to drown out the show-biz figures being wielded in other parts of the orchestra. Of the three movements, the last is prefaced by a cadenza, introduced and concluded with the backing of the percussion section.

Leon Botstein conducted a vigorous and engaging first performance.

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