Introducing Simon Holt’s “A Table of Noises”

Dear All,

This note is to introduce, as best I can, an extremely important departure for the percussion repertoire. Quite unlike any piece of music I know, the new Simon Holt percussion concerto “A Table of Noises” exuberantly tears up the manual on how to approach the medium and I am thrilled with the idiosyncratic, adventurous results. The title draws on some initial research Simon made into percussion instruments, and the discovery of a Peruvian instrument named Una Mesa de Ruidos(A Table of Noises). This led, laterally, to the vivid recollection of an altogether different kind of table, namely that at the centre of the life of Simon’s late Great Uncle Ashworth. A table adorned with a variety of possessions central to his life as a part-time taxidermist, this other table had fascinated the adoring young nephew, and along with a variety of other childhood memories, informed the character of the new concerto. In six titled movements, the work recalls various protagonists from that era, often with appropriate Lancastrian wit and eccentricity. Those characters include the dog “Fly”(a blistering scherzo featuring xylophone insanity) and the boisterous “Skennin’ Mary” with her maverick glass-eye and fabulous temper. Haunting these images are a variety of (unidentified) ghosts, who manifest themselves as interludes throughout the work.

The concerto crackles with energy, and its unconventional percussion inventory adds to the pep in its step. The soloist’s own Ash-inspired “Table Top”(movement 9) forms an entire solo-movement where a variety of intimate, jewel-like sounds are laid out, and investigated in a variety of quirky combinations. Worth a mention also is the skewed orchestral set-up, including two antiphonal percussionists and piccolo players, alongside a complete dearth of violins. Rising out of these angularities are some of the most arresting textures yet to be penned, and the originality is both confident and not in the slightest self-conscious. Brittle woodwinds, thick brass-chords, the hoot of a car-horn, high double-bass harmonics, all jostling for position!

The final movement entitled “Under Glass” represents a kind of finality; the finishing touch of the taxidermist’s art and the inexorable demise of the characters alluded to within the concerto. Extremely powerful, this final, grave gesture spoke viscerally at the premiere, and for those brave enough to listen, eerie personal resonances were evoked. Music can have this rare power, and it has found a wonderful new vessel in Simon Holt’s “A Table of Noises”.

A BBC broadcast of the work is on radio3 on the 6th June, and available as “Listen Again” material for a week after….

Best wishes, Colin.

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