Percussionist Colin Currie on the thrill of a premiere

Colin CurrieWed 15th June 2011

New works from Joey Roukens and Elliott Carter await...

Writing this blog, I find myself poised for the two final premieres of my 2010/11 season. The exceptionally contrasting nature of the works prompts remark, and inspires a happy confidence in me regarding the assured stance of the percussion repertoire. For although Joey Roukens (29) and Elliott Carter (102) belong to different musical worlds and are separated by however many generations, they have both just completed concertante works for solo percussion.

Roukens, fully imbued with pop, Latin and African influences, has written a four movement work using a large range of instruments. Carter's "Conversations" for Solo Piano, Solo Percussion and Chamber Orchestra concentrates on marimba and vibraphone plus a number of effects, all bound up in a coruscating scherzo which pauses only for occasional and resonant poignancy. It is, unquestionably, one of the most significant additions to our chamber repertoire since the Bartok Sonata of 1938.

Meeting and working with composers fascinates me. Whether it is Joey in Amsterdam (grabbing a coffee together on the Nieuw Markt), or Mr Carter at home in New York City, these gifted and fascinating creators generously describe, with notes, the product of their experience and time for our ears, our minds and our hearts. I have a wide range of taste in new music, and what matters to me is finding those voices that somehow get to the root of an expressive trait; those that unearth the truest side of an aesthetic, the most focused and pure. In this way can the music of Steve Reich and Karlheinz Stockhausen satisfy in some equal and common measure. The pleasure of my participation comes in allowing that music to become its own essence, to eradicate extraneous performance issues as best I can and permit the music its own freedom and space.

Each premiere is a thrill, staying with me as a strong experience and whatever does occur at a premiere contains a special note of raw authenticity. Often, a work will need several performances to hit critical mass. Others will be immortalised on the spot, and never sound so fresh and exciting ever again, no matter what I try. The experiences are as diverse as the needs of those who provide the music, from the hands-on ("Teach me a rhythm!" begged he!) to the hands-off (composer vanishes for 6 months and full score lands on doormat with a notey thud one Thursday).

No other instrumental endeavour has seen such explosive development in recent decades, and it's a source of pride to see the repertoire achieve poise and substance. I enjoy manifesting these works on behalf of the composers, and it is my aim that they take themselves by surprise. The audience then, inevitably, will feel the same way.

Colin Currie's picture

Colin Currie

Leading percussionist Colin Currie will be premiering the new work by Elliott Carter at the Aldeburgh Festival on 26 June and will be performing at the Cheltenham Festival on 3 July (photo: Marco Borggreve)

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