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Percussive premieres from Reich, Andriessen, MacMillan & Clyne

(August 2014)

Colin Currie's percussion festival, Metal Wood Skin, at the Southbank Centre includes premieres of works by Steve Reich, Louis Andriessen, James MacMillan and Anna Clyne.

The Southbank Centre's Artist in Residence Colin Currie shifts the focus onto percussion this autumn, with major premieres of works by leading international composers in his festival entitled Metal Wood Skin. Currie has done much to establish percussion as an accepted instrument on the concert stage, and has created new works by composers around the world, ranging from solo pieces to concertos with orchestra.

The programme on 5 October includes Secret Garden, a new work by Anna Clyne for drum set and recorded voice, based on the children's classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This is followed by the UK premiere of Louis Andriessen's Tapdance which Currie premiered in the composer's 75th celebrations in Amsterdam last May. He is joined by the Asko|Schönberg Ensemble and conductor Clark Rundell who conclude the programme with Andriessen's classic Hoketus.

Currie writes about Tapdance: "I'd always wanted a work from Louis Andriessen. When writing Tapdance he was very influenced by the very earliest percussion concerto, written by Darius Milhaud in the 1930s. He loved this work and its rather unusual structure, where it starts with a lot of energy but becomes more and more melancholy and even despairing as the piece unfolds. The title refers to Charleston rhythms, which are used at the beginning of the work."

The programme on 12 October is devoted to the music of Steve Reich, a composer of special significance for percussionists. Reich will be joining Currie in Clapping Music before the world premiere of his new Quartet for two pianos and two vibraphones, specially written for the Colin Currie Group. The programe also features Reich's Sextet and Mallet Quartet. Following its premiere in London the group will tour the new Quartet in all-Reich programmes to Cologne, New York, Paris, Ghent, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Cardiff and Glasgow.

Currie writes about the new Quartet: "I approached Steve Reich about writing a piece and I asked him , what would be your favourite thing to write? He said, if he was going to a desert island and was asked what four musicians he wanted to take, it would be two vibraphones and two pianists. And that's why he's writing a quartet. It's his instrumental utopia."

James MacMillan's new percussion concerto receives its UK premiere with Currie as soloist on 11 December, with the Philharmonia Orchestra and conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali. Percussion Concerto No.2 promises to be an enticing successor to MacMillan's first concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, which is the most played percussion concerto, with close to 500 performances in the two decades since its premiere in 1992. Of these, Currie has performed it over 140 times with orchestras around the world.

MacMillan's Percussion Concerto No.2 is premiered in Utrecht on 7 November with Colin Currie and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic conducted by James Gaffigan. Following the UK premiere at the Southbank Centre the work travels on for its French premiere on 19 December by the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse conducted by Tugan Sokhiev. First North and South American performances follow in 2015/16 at the Cabrillo Festival, by the Baltimore Symphony and the São Paulo Symphony, all with Currie as soloist and with Marin Alsop on the rostrum.

MacMillan has composed the new concerto to be distinct from its predecessor: it uses full orchestra rather than chamber orchestra, and there is an orchestral percussion section which adds to the solo material. The composer has employed new instruments and colours, including the aluphone - a metallophone which combines the effects of a vibraphone and bells. The concerto plays continuously but is divided into three sections as described by the composer, incorporating "a substantial fast and lively section, a middle section which begins ritualistically and subsides into a dreamy reflective mood, and a third section which gradually builds in momentum and speed.

"The main characteristic of the opening section is that the soloist plays marimba along with two other marimbas in the orchestra. The accompaniment is rhythmic and spiky. Various untuned metal instruments are also used. The middle section introduces cencerros (tuned cowbells) and a steel drum on which is played ruminating and expressive lines. The metal sounds return in the final section as the music quickens, leading to the climactic return of the aluphone, vibraphone and crotales as a chorale emerges from the depths of the orchestra."

On 7 December Curie is joined by Tamara Stefanovich in a performance of Harrison Birtwistle's The Axe Manual, for piano and percussion. As well as being part of Metal Wood Skin, this Queen Elizabeth Hall concert forms part of the Southbank Centre's three days of concerts celebrating Birtwistle's 80th birthday year.

Currie writes of the Metal Wood Skin festival at the Southbank Centre "Together all the works represent the new wave of percussion repertoire; exceptionally high quality and serious works that show the art form to be rather dignified instead of just being a collection of utensils and a circus act. This festival really celebrates an art form coming of age. This is what this festival represents to me; that percussion has arrived. The novelty aspect is in the past and the art form has earned its stripes. We're now looking at something that is thriving."

> Metal Wood Skin festival
> Colin Currie website

> Further information on Work: Percussion Concerto No.2

Photo of Colin Currie: Marco Borggreve

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