Renowned percussionist Colin Currie gives us the details on Steve Reich’s new Quartet.
You have been a constant champion of today’s music, performing countless works by living composers. What brought you to the contemporary scene?
In my early teens I became fascinated by the printed scores of certain contemporary composers available at my local music library. I remember particularly the appeal of Elliott Carter, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Pierre Boulez, whose musical inventiveness absolutely captivated me. From there I kept up my investigations and became a true obsessive—of the new and the original. I premiered my first percussion concerto aged 17 and have sought out composers ever since. It has been absolutely thrilling!
When did you first become familiar with Steve Reich’s music?
I distinctly remember on my 19th birthday lying down and listening with headphones very deeply to Music for 18 Musicians. I was already a fan by then, but I recall on that occasion giving myself the time and opportunity to really savour and immerse myself in the beauty and process of that music. I first saw Steve in person at a pre-concert talk at the BBC Proms at the time of the premiere of Proverb, but I had no inkling that I would ever have the chance to meet him.
How has his compositional voice informed your own sense of musicality and approach to performance?
Performing Drumming has been extremely informative. It is a brilliant example of living in the moment to produce a long-term, over-arching goal. I work very hard to ensure that the piece runs smoothly, and that whilst something is always occurring, nothing is ever rushed. I think by extension, I try to approach much music in this manner.
Steve Reich’s new work, Quartet, is written for two vibraphones and two pianos. In terms of performance, what is special about this instrumentation?
The purity of its sonority and its strong associations to Steve's sound world. Also, the use of pairs of musicians has been crucial to Steve ever since Clapping Music and the early phasing pieces. This has allowed him to develop his sensational use of canon and hocketing in his works, and in Quartet he goes further than ever in terms of rich, long lines and glorious rhythmic/contrapuntal texture. As a performer it is an extremely exciting small ensemble to be part of—powerful and lyrical.
Steve Reich refers to Quartet as one of his more complex pieces. What is different about this work?
I would certainly agree with that. There is an amazingly strident freedom to the way the musical material develops, and in the first movement things are especially ambitious. We hear the recognisable vigour and drive, but he's into more quickly changeable harmonic territory, and the key changes come thick and fast. Thematic elements are solid, bold, and binding, but there is a beautiful, charmingly instinctive flow to the music—rigorous and free to roam.
Where will you be performing Quartet in the coming months?
The world premiere is in London at the Southbank Centre as part of my "Metal Wood Skin" Percussion Festival. Within a few weeks following that, we play the co-commissioning concerts of the Cologne Philharmonie, Paris Cité de la Musique, and New York Carnegie Hall, so it’s a sensational set of premieres. Then my group will continue to play the work a dozen or so times in the remainder of the season, in Belgium, the Netherlands (on tour), and variously in the UK.
Interview conducted by Patrick Gullo
Photo by Marco Borggreve
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