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November 13, 2002

Beyond silence

From: Rocky Mountain News, CO
Nov. 13, 2002

Profound hearing loss no hindrance to lass who lives by rhythm

By Marc Shulgold, Rocky Mountain News
November 13, 2002

Evelyn Glennie laughingly confessed that she won't be donning her silver space suit when she performs in Denver this weekend.

Instead, she said, "I might be normal-looking" for Michael Daugherty's alien-inspired percussion concerto, U.F.O., presented by the Colorado Symphony in Boettcher Hall.

Still, just the thought of a world-renowned soloist dressing up as a creature from another world (which she has done when playing the piece) suggests that Glennie is not your everyday concert artist.

In fact, that might be the understatement of the decade.

In remarkably short time, the Scottish musician has risen to stardom while merrily disposing of numerous long-held traditions in the tradition-heavy world of the concert hall.

In her 20s, she drew instant attention as a woman percussionist -- stepping out as the first in her field to choose a career as a solo artist. She has collaborated with pop and classical artists, as well as with such world-music performers as the Japanese taiko group Kodo.

She has introduced numerous visual elements to her performances, including special lighting ("I play a snare drum concerto in which the only light is squarely on the drum," she noted). Though she may not be in costume this weekend for Daugherty's space-age concerto, she'll be creatively illuminated as she bangs on hundreds of instruments -- including some she designed herself -- and will now and then wander out into the audience with them.

All refreshingly different and unexpected. But there's one more surprising element to this charming concert hall star: She is profoundly deaf.

Today at 36, Glennie has been a star long enough that most concert-goers are aware of her hearing loss, which began when she was 12 and became nearly total by her mid-teens.

But for those unfamiliar with her remarkable story, questions naturally arise -- and she sympathizes with the startled reactions.

"I can understand their curiosity, but I don't want to be considered a freak," she said in her delightful Scottish brogue. Speaking energetically during a phone interview conducted in her Seattle dressing room, Glennie answered the questions after lip-reading them from a friend who acted as transmitter.

Through the years, she has made it clear that her hearing loss (it is not deafness, she stresses) isn't something she's interested in discussing at length. "Really, it's hard for me to talk about, because I don't know anything about the ear or how it works."

Performing barefoot, she responds to the vibrations of the instruments, while keeping unflagging eye contact with her collaborators. Watching her in concert, it's obvious Glennie is immersed in the moment.

Swiftly and tactfully, she dismisses the subject of her hearing loss: "I want to give what I have to an audience -- and that is that."

Indeed, the music remains the most important part of her life. And, it seems, such has always been the case.

"I guess it's just my Scottish stubbornness," she said, laughing, when asked to explain her extraordinary perseverence. "As a youngster, I grew up on a farm in northern Scotland and so was made responsible (for chores) at a young age.

"I was brought up with nature, and spent much of my time watching something grow from a seed. That, you could say, is a parallel with the music I've commissioned. It's such a joy watching a piece grow."

Daugherty's U.F.O. was premiered by Glennie three years ago in Washington, D.C.

"I had become aware of Michael's music and was quite intrigued by his (compositional) voice," she said. "We worked on this for a couple of years, experimenting with his ideas and with various instruments. It's so wonderful when you can work with a composer, when they're e-mailable."

The composer will be on hand this weekend, providing pre-concert talks and lending his hand at weekend-long recording sessions (the concerto is part of an all-Daugherty CD to be issued on Naxos).

Despite its title, U.F.O. was not originally conceived with Glennie dashing about in a space suit. "Michael and I discussed it, and I thought it would be a great idea.

"I love playing a character. I do feel that the visual side is important. I've long believed that the concert format is something we must all address. For example, lighting can contribute positively to the musical experience. But then, sometimes a clean white stage is perfect.

"It all depends on the music."

The same could be said for Glennie's life and career. "The No. 1 thing is putting across the music," she said. She remains unfazed by the trappings of celebrity -- a Grammy winner, she has been named Scottish Woman of the Decade, and was honored as an Officer of the British Empire at age 27.

Life remains a continually unfolding adventure in rhythm. "Every time I pick the sticks up," she said, "it's different."

Marc Shulgold is the music and dance writer. Shulgoldm@Rocky or (303) 892- 5296.

MUSIC Info: Name: Colorado Symphony

Genre: Classical

ShowTime: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 (culturalConvergence program); 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 17 (Masterworks Series)

Location: Boettcher Hall

Price: $15 to $30 (culturalConvergence), $15 to $55 (Masterworks)

Ticket Info: (303) 893-4100

2002 © The E.W. Scripps Co.