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On the beat
PSO performs Newton native's concerto

For more than a dozen years, classical music patrons in Pittsburgh have known the performance abilities of Covington native Tim Adams, principal timpanist for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

And in mid-May, Adams revealed another of his many talents, this time as a composer, when his three-part concerto, "Kyoto Reflections of the Mind," made its world premier performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Music Hall.

The piece, which Adams wrote for percussion, violin and strings, wasn't his first stab at composing, but it was the first time he'd written for an orchestra.

"I looked at and listened to composers who wrote for strings well, like Debussy, Ravel and Bartok," said Adams, the son of longtime Newton County educators Louise and T.K. Adams. "And then I looked at composers who wrote for solo violin, like Paganini and George Crumb. I used those composers as models when I wrote for strings."

Although the title of Adams' concerto refers to a trip he took to Japan while on a tour with the Pittsburgh Symphony - which he joined in 1995 - he said he didn't have that particular theme in mind as he wrote.

"I didn't go into it with a title, and I sometimes think if I had, I might have finished quicker," said Adams, who took a 12-month sabbatical from the orchestra to complete work on "Kyoto Reflections." "I had to wait for (the title) to come to me. As it came closer, I got the title for each movement."

Adams, who in addition to his work with the Pittsburgh Symphony is also an associate professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, said his original intent was to write a chamber music piece for percussion and violin, which was to be played with orchestra concertmaster Andres Cardenes. But thanks to Cardenes' enthusiasm, Adams had to put his composing plans in high gear.

"I wrote a chamber music piece for two people and showed it to Andres," said Adams, who plays marimba and a host of different percussive instruments in "Kyoto Reflections." "I told him I was thinking about expanding it to include an orchestra, and a month later I saw in a letter he'd written to our subscribers that I was writing it. That made it a very interesting experience."

"Kyoto Reflections" was performed twice, on May 15 at Carnegie Music Hall and on May 17 at Upper St. Clair High School. In reviews published by the city's two newspapers, Adams received praise for his work, which the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Burkhardt Reiter called "thoughtful and quiet music, punctuated with the occasional rhythmic flurry and the final movement's punchy ending."

"It was an amazing opportunity," said Adams, 46. "A lot of composers never get the chance to hear their music played. Although we may have played pieces written by a resident conductor, I may have been the first (Pittsburgh Symphony) member to have a piece performed by the orchestra. I can't say there's never been a piece played that was written by a member, but there hasn't been one since I've been here. And everybody in the orchestra was very supportive."

With his father already a veteran music teacher, Adams began his formal musical education at the age of 7, and from the time he was 9 until he was 17, Adams studied under Bill Wilder, a percussionist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for nearly 40 years.

Adams earned undergraduate and master's degrees from the Cleveland (Ohio) Institute of Music and after college joined with two classmates to form a rock band, The Exotic Birds, which released several albums and included among its members rock star Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.

After his stint in the rock world, Adams returned to the symphonic realm, spending four years with the Florida Philharmonic in Fort Lauderdale and four years in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Now that he's composed his first concerto (which was performed on a program that included a Mozart symphony and Astor Piazzolla's "Four Seasons in Buenos Aires"), Adams - who once appeared on an episode of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" with the late Fred Rogers - said he plans to write separate concertos for violin and percussion and has an idea about developing a piece for clarinet and hand drum.

Adams, who has performed on recording sessions for the soundtrack to the 2001 film "A Caveman's Valentine" and the upcoming Spike Lee film "Miracle at St. Anna," added that he'd like to break into film composing, like trumpeter Terrance Blanchard, who has penned scores for several of Lee's films.

"I'd like to write for films, but I've got to get in more practice," he said. "I've got to learn how to write for each instrument. Composition isn't something that's foreign to me, but I never studied it. Writing for films is something I could get into. I want to do a little bit of a lot of things."

For more information on Tim Adams, visit www.timadamsmusic.com.

Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens, Ga. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.