Percussionist Evelyn Glennie is a musician, not a deaf musician


As the world's only full-time, classical percussion-soloist, Scottish-born Evelyn Glennie bewitches audiences worldwide with her talent. And this weekend, as a featured soloist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Ms. Glennie is expected to mesmerize Baltimore as well.

Ms. Glennie is respected among some of the world's most heralded musicians as a percussionist of great skill. Yet what seems to fascinate those who first learn about her is that Ms. Glennie cannot hear. By age 10, she had lost all hearing.

Ms. Glennie, who speaks, reads lips and does phone interviews with an assistant who listens and then mouths reporters' questions to her, says she feels she's better off deaf in the seismic world she has come to know.

Because the distraction of noise has been eliminated, Ms. Glennie is able to work from the very essence of sound itself -- the vibrations. It is her music, not her deafness, that is sensational, according to those who have heard or worked with her.

Although Ms. Glennie most often is portrayed as "the deaf percussionist," she says, "That is something I dislike intensely. I'm a musician. Even the term 'percussionist' is not ideal. I'm simply a musician."

Ms. Glennie's deafness is not noteworthy in the face of her talent, says Hungarian conductor Ivan Fischer, who will be conducting Ms. Glennie's BSO concerts. "She's an excellent musician. She has a very natural talent. She's a lovely person and that comes across in her music making," Mr. Fischer says.

Ms. Glennie comes to Baltimore thanks to BSO Music Director David Zinman. "He had heard of her on his travels, and after hearing a recording of her was so impressed that he asked us to book her as soon as possible," said Miryam Yardumium, music administrator of the BSO.

Ms. Glennie, 30, began studying timpani and percussion in Scotland at age 12 "out of curiosity." She saw friends playing in their school orchestras and thought it looked like fun. "Percussion seemed to me to be the most interesting." At 16, she was selected to attend the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in London. She graduated in 1985 having earned the highest honors, including the Queen's Commendation Prize for overall excellence.

Impressed by the level of playing and the extensive repertoire of the marimba, she used one of her many scholarships to develop her interest more fully. "I chose to go to Japan after being influenced by a Japanese marimba player, whom I admired after seeing perform in the UK."

Ms. Glennie's music studies also exposed her to Japanese culture, which has a rich tradition of marimba music. "It was a worthwhile place for me to learn and expand my knowledge," she says.

Since her experience in Japan, Ms. Glennie has been traveling the world and enjoys performing with musicians everywhere from Brazil to Korea. "I try to learn as much as I possibly can when I'm touring around," she says. "The wonderful thing about percussion is that you'll find a lot of tradition in the percussion music wherever you are. It's certainly interesting to see all the different styles and cultures. Understanding the culture is understanding the music better."

Playing with local musicians provides Ms. Glennie with a global perspective as well as a global collection of instruments. "This is how I collect things when I travel around. . . . It's also a lot of hard work -- I'm also traveling with half a ton of equipment," she says. Ms. Glennie, who tries to use her own equipment whenever possible, has about 700 instruments. Her collection is based in America, Japan and Britain.

She is eager to share her diverse musical experiences with her peers. "I'm always commissioning things -- introducing composers to instruments, and encouraging them to experiment and develop good music."

Her efforts are directed toward popularizing percussion compositions. "It's important for percussion to have that extra push -- to become more prominent in the public eye," she says. Part of her work in creating more percussion-oriented music includes her sponsorship of the Evelyn Glennie Concert Competition Award, which is given each year to young composers from Britain.

Ms. Glennie's life is colored with gentle determination and smiling strength. Whether crashing cymbals or tinkling chimes, playing an elegant hall or in a village street, everything is executed purposefully. Music critic Michael Walsh once wrote in Time magazine, "In performance she watches the conductor and orchestra with a fierce intensity . . . leaping from one station to another with a gazelle's grace."

Offstage, too, she leaps with grace from one project to another. "Many ideas and aims change," she says, "Everything I'm doing now can be seen as being developed from my whole life. Ideas don't just stop. They're ongoing things.

"The main goal I had when I first started was to become a solo percussionist, and that I have done. In the past year or so, I've written a lot of music -- especially for television. I'd like to do more of that when time allows. I'd like to write more -- not just for percussion, I'd like to write about percussion." And, she already has a head start in that direction, having published her autobiography, "Good Vibrations," five years ago.

Ms. Glennie's touring schedule is as intense as her talent. She performs about 100 concerts a year, spending six or seven months out of the year traveling. But she manages her time away from her home in Cambridgeshire, England, well. "I am an easygoing person," she says, "I can handle the extensive tours and so on. We have a good team here."


Evelyn Glennie will perform Darius Millhaud's "Concerto for Marimba and Vibraphone" and Askell Masson's "Concertpiece for Snare Drum" with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. tomorrow and Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday

Call: (410) 783-8000

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