As usual, the Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s Wednesday concert had an official theme — “Drums along the Charles,” all percussion-forward works — and an ever-present unofficial one: storytelling. The Landmarks Orchestra is, more often than not, a purveyor of musical narrative; this program brought another anthology of tales to the Esplanade. And (also per usual) much else: a contingent of young musicians (from the Yawkey Club of Roxbury), crisply choreographed ASL interpretations of the music by Christopher S. Robinson, live-tweeted program notes, a fair amount of speechifying. Not the least of music director Christopher Wilkins’s feats was wrangling all that into a coherent concert experience.
After a curtain-raiser — Aram Khachaturian’s ever-coruscating “Sabre Dance” — came the world premiere of Donald Krishnaswami’s “The Swordfishers.” Inspired by archeologist Duncan Caldwell’s hypothesis that certain stone tools of the Red Paint People (resident in New England 3,000 to 5,000 years ago) were actually bell-like percussion instruments, the work put that archaic ringing downstage: two players on replicas of the Red Paint instruments, the Yawkey Club musicians on modern analogs (“countertops and floor tiles,” Wilkins admitted), another pair of players rumbling slit-log drums. Upstage, the orchestra set the scene of a Red Paint ceremonial hunt, braving the sea in pursuit of swordfish.
Violist Krishnaswami storyboarded the action with stately, minor-key flair. Mists of quietly-stirring atmosphere alternated with illustrative drive. Imposing, Holst-like orchestral mass gave way to dynamic drum-circle locomotion. Proximate ground and air traffic swallowed up some subtleties of Krishnaswami’s natural evocations (an apt if unintended allegory), and the open-air setting seemed to dilute some climaxes. But Krishnaswami arranges his tableaux with pace and engaging style.
Another premiere followed, the first New England performance of Philip Glass’s “Concerto Fantasy” for two timpanists. Part of it, anyway — only the last two of the work’s three movements were played. Still, the slow movement’s slow-rolling, oceanic chord progression did effectively pick up where “The Swordfishers” left off. Then an athletic cadenza — timpanists Jeffrey Fischer and Robert Schulz attacking their drums with rotational zeal — and a high-energy, rock-tinged finale.
Last was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s similarly metamorphic “Symphonic Dances.” The performance framed Romantic splendor with lean rhythmic efficiency, more implacable than indulgent.
BOSTON LANDMARKS ORCHESTRA
Christopher Wilkins, music director, with Jeffrey Fischer and Robert Schulz, timpani, and musicians from the Yawkey Club of Roxbury. At: Hatch Shell, the Esplanade, Wednesday
Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.