Digital Worlds Director’s new Concerto for Timpani & Strings Premieres with Cleveland Orchestra
Written by: Ryan Helterhoff (MAMC ‘23)
Timpani are usually relegated a complementary role at the back of the orchestra. This was not the case for the World Premiere of James Oliverio’s Legacy Ascendant: Concerto for Timpani and Strings. Paul Yancich, principal timpanist of the Cleveland Orchestra, performed as the soloist for the piece and was featured at the very front of the orchestra. Guest conductor Alan Gilbert led the performance. Gilbert is the principal conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in Hamburg, Germany.
Yancich, a recognized master of his craft, moved fluidly through each of the three movements “Then,” “Halycon,” and “Once Again” in front of an 800-person audience. His nuanced performance, oftentimes engaging in a musical dialogue with the strings and harp, expanded the traditional notion of what the timpani can do as a melodic instrument.
Legacy Ascendant is the third timpani concerto that Oliverio has written for Yancich. Oliverio, now Director of the UF Digital Worlds Institute and a five-time Emmy award winning composer, composed the first timpani concerto for Yancich over 30 years ago. The piece, titled Timpani Concerto №1 (The Olympian), debuted with Yancich and the Cleveland Orchestra in 1990. The second, titled DYNASTY Double Timpani Concerto, was written in 2010 for Paul and his brother Mark — principal timpanist for the Atlanta Symphony. The piece had premiere performances with both orchestras during the 2010–11 concert season.
Paul Yancich and composer James Oliverio met while studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music together in the 1970s. Their collaboration began when Yancich asked Oliverio to write a piece for his senior recital. They’ve kept in touch ever since.
“One of the things I discovered early on working with Paul is that the drums can be melodic when the writing allows the player the time to change the pitches on the drum with their feet while they are playing,” said Oliverio. “The challenge is to write the music in a way that allows the drums to change pitches while the music continues.”
Unlike the previous two concertos, which were scored for full orchestra, Yancich requested that Oliverio compose a new piece exclusively for timpani and strings. Oliverio added the harp as an accompanying string instrument, and gave it an important musical role in each of the three movements. One of the composer’s primary challenges was figuring out how to feature the melodic potential of the drums while maintaining a balance within the dynamic range of the strings.
“I think Legacy Ascendant utilizes what the players have spent their careers learning to achieve,” said Oliverio. “A beauty of tone and timbre, and the ability to play long melodic lines with dynamic nuance and sensitivity.”
Oliverio and Yancich’s careers are in many ways intertwined after working together for over 40 years. For Oliverio, that’s the most rewarding part.
“As a living composer, it’s exciting to have my work performed by one of the world’s preeminent orchestras,” said Oliverio. “And I’m honored to be able to work with Paul once again. To me it’s the culmination of a lifelong collaboration with him and that is very meaningful to me.”
Check out these other articles about the premiere from ClevelandClassical.com
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