Colin Currie at the Wigmore Hall, explorativist songs for a percussionist’s virtuosity

I have come to the Wigmore on that night with both angst and excitement (April, 7th), as I was forecasting with great hopes to reconcile with the world of percussions, maybe a bit a biased in the past by the everyday life omnipresence of dull popular drumming patterns, also enthused with vigour at the prospect of finding a change from traditional instruments: let us vibe at the notes of a marimba, and his brothers in sound!


Elliott Carter, Figment V
Per Norgard, Fire Over Water from I Ching
Toshio Hosokawa, Reminiscence
Bruno Mantovani, Moi,jeu…
Dave Maric, Sense and Innocence
Joseph Pereira, Word of Mouth II
Rolf Wallin, Realismos magicos (11 short stories)

Alas, my hopes have been deceived in the light of a puzzling programme which, to me, missed to feature a satisfyingly wide enough spectrum of influences and stylistic periods. My pure expertise in drumming culture is certainly not one of a graduate in the subject, therefore my words are to be understood in the frame of a common listener, yet with a little more acute understanding of rhythm and music from other genres.

All of the pieces on that night are to be considered recent works, if not from the freshest date, the oldest being from 1982 (Per Norgard’s Fire Over Water from I Ching), showcasing as a conclusion a world premiere, co-commissioned by the Wigmore Hall (Rolf Wallin, Realismos magicos).

From one end to another, Currie honoured the Hall by the quality of his strokes and the sensitivity of his play. Where many performers manage to seduce with passion and false notes, our man was able to deliver a stunning performance with both expressivity and accuracy.

Furthermore, I can only praise the composers for their visions in sound and time, and their boldness in the deciphering of most shades, tones and dynamics the world of percussions can offer. The audience swayed from a ship of impressionist textures to another with soft transitional footbridges, albeit over uncertain waters. Cinematographic feels were also present, never missing to elicit our own imagination of spectacular scenes, mainly through coups de theatre and layers on the technique of messa di voce.

But this is where the bemoaning, nosey me comes into play and must speak out for his wish of a more balanced repertoire. Too often ploughing in the dissonant, disharmonic, disrhythmic, atmospheric, explorative, deconstructivist, contemporaneist, modernist and, at last, surrealistic abstract impressionism, it quickly turned into a repetitive delivery of what the mind won’t preserve in the least percentage, or into what is embarrassing to musically explain to anyone curious about the How was it yesterday. This love for heterogeneity paradoxically generates a monotony in genre, and past the demonstrative show, there were no highlights, highs or lows, but a continuous wandering in states of a hazy trance and interrogation, day dreaming, maybe.

An inspiring piece, though, was Word of mouth II, by Joseph Pereira, on four dry and four resonant drums, using hands first, and then sticks. Pardon my vulgarity in culture by sensing a resemblance with Zeppelin’s Moby Dick. It felt to me as a reassuring proof of the value of a mere handpick of popular references, and their validity in the scope of more ethereal musical conceptions.

To finish with, I beg again anyone with tendencies for wrath against criticism to take a deep breath before moving on to my last thought. I shrug at the recurrence of the pretentiousness of titles that have little perceptible relation with the music. You could switch them all inbetween the pieces when performing to another crowed, it wouldn’t make the least difference. Hey, what? Isn’t it from explorative, mysterious, irregular creativity in the first place? It is not music looking for a focus, music for listening at home except for a small minority of adventurers but, to come back on my early notes, not a music I dislike at all.

I wish to share the story of this patron: he had told me he once roused his protégé by suggesting that 4 hours of Bach could be boring. So just as well, 2 hours of explorativist, surreal, atmospheric music can offer a certain challenge, should I pretend listening with uninterrupted concentration. Especially if my absorption capacities are hurt from the long day gone. Why not balance and grow a pace from more genres and periods?

Author: Francois Mauld d'Aymee

Francois trains to become a classical singer at the same time he runs a tutoring company in Central London. He loves opera as much as any other kind of classical music, never missing an occasion to attend the great performances.