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UFO for solo percussion and orchestra (1999)

UFO
for solo percussion and orchestra (1999)

Instrumentation: Solo percussion; piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, Bb clarinet, Eb clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon; 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba; strings)

Publisher: Boosey and Hawkes, Hendon Music (BMI)

Duration: 40 minutes

World Premiere: April 10, 1999 / Kennedy Center, Washington D.C. / National Symphony Orchestra / Leonard Slatkin, conductor / Evelyn Glennie, solo percussion

Program Note:

UFO (1999) for solo percussion and orchestra was commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra through a grant from the John and June Hechinger Commissioning Fund and written for Evelyn Glennie. It was first performed by Evelyn Glennie, solo percussion, and the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin, at the Kennedy Center, Washington D.C. on April 10, 1999. In five movements with a total duration of about 40 minutes, the concerto is scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, B-flat clarinet, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, and strings.

The concerto is inspired by the unidentified flying objects that have become an obsession in American popular culture. The soloist is introduced as an alien, arriving unexpectedly and playing mysterious percussion instruments in unfamiliar ways. The three major sections of the composition are entitled “Unidentified,” “Flying,” and “Objects.” There are also two brief interludes entitled “Traveling Music” and “???” during which the percussion soloist moves through the audience and around the stage while performing sleight-of-hand improvisations that may leave the listener wondering: is this another UFO sighting?

The five movements are as follows:

I. Traveling Music

Soloist performs on a waterphone and mechanical siren, with strings.

II. Unidentified

Soloist performs on xylophone, ice cymbal, crasher, slasher, brake drum, spring (or other “trash” instruments), earth plate, cymbal disc, and Chinese gong, with full orchestra.

In July 1947 near Roswell, New Mexico, a rancher heard a loud explosion and discovered strange metal scraps in the desert. Responding to national newspaper reports of this “UFO crash,” government agencies quickly converged on the wreckage site and confiscated the evidence. The “incident at Roswell” resonates in the popular imagination because to this day the government file remains top secret. What happened to those scattered metal scraps? They resonate on the concert stage, as the percussionist plays on xylophone and eight pieces of unidentified metal.

III. Flying

Soloist performs on vibraphone, 3 cymbals, and Mark tree, with full orchestra.

An airplane pilot flying near Mount Rainier, Washington, spotted a formation of bright objects which he described as “flying saucers,” traveling at incredible speed through the sky. This 1947 sighting made international headlines and launched the modern UFO craze, with the proliferation of UFO magazines, clubs, conferences, photographs and films. In this movement we hear an alternation between slow and fast sections. A mysterious melody, introduced by the vibraphone, is echoed kaleidoscopically like a halo of sound throughout the orchestra. Periodically this slow motion music accelerates into fugues flying at supersonic tempos. The solo percussionist gives a virtuoso performance on vibraphone, Mark tree, and cymbals that hover and shimmer in the air like flying saucers.

IV. ???

Soloist performs on non-pitched “alien” instruments, with contrabassoon and optional percussion performers placed in the performance space, in order to create a surround-sound effect.

V. Objects

Soloist performs on 5 tom-toms, 8 octobans, bongos, kit bass drum, alien cymbal, 3 small cymbals, various metal objects, 3 temple blocks, 3 Latin cowbells, mechanical siren, and waterphone, with full orchestra.

One of the most persistent arguments against the existence of UFO’s has been the lack of physical evidence of alien spacecraft after crashing. The secret military base called Area 51 is located somewhere in the Nevada Nuclear Test Site and is reputed to be the repository for alien objects. UFO buffs from around the world make their pilgrimages here, hoping to catch a glimpse of a captured flying saucer. Pulsating with rhythms in 5/4 time, this section features percussion instruments that suggest the outer trappings and inner machinery of a fine-tuned alien aircraft.

–Michael Daugherty

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