New Solo Recital opens at London’s Wigmore Hall

On January 20th 2001 I gave my first full-length solo recital, in the Musashino Shimin in Tokyo, Japan. That programme was toured variously at that time, and in later seasons developed by the addition of works by Louis Andriessen and Steve Mackey. After a few years, it was consciously put to one side to allow the duo-partnership with Hakan Hardenberger to take hold and to invest in the key works for percussion and piano, namely those by Karlheinz Stockhausen and Harrison Birtwistle. More recently still, I have concentrated on my programmes with string quartet, with multiple premieres with both The Miro String Quartet and The Pavel Haas String Quartet.

The Solo Recital however, has been lurking, brewing. And I increasingly felt that I wanted to contribute once again to that certainly very formidable medium. How to build a whole concert, sustained by just percussion instruments, what repertoire, and balanced in what order, were all issues of intensely whirring research and conjecture. The key, as is often the case, was a very simple piece, but one so deceptively rich that it came to bookend the first half of the programme, to be played initially as a playful fanfare and then eventually as a more testy-sounding coda.

That magic work is Elliott Carter’s “Figment V” which he wrote in his triple-figured latter life, and it is one that I quickly felt could either be played quite playfully and characteristically wryly, or, with a little more bite and edge, hence the work appearing twice, and well worth that second listen too. This brought me to construct a first half that would operate as an uninterrupted suite of pieces, each a different investigation of pulse in music, a commodity so skilfully teased with by EC. From his work on the affable relationship between pulses, we move to Per Norgaard’s “Fire over Water”  to witness what happens when pulses are treated more in conflict than in logical transition. From this high-velocity maelstrom, we then focus on the other end of the spectrum, in Toshio Hosokawa’s ultraslow-moving marimba portrait “Reminiscence”. Here, we could be forgiven for thinking we are listening to magnified sound-waves, drawn hypnotised to each countercurrent of sound. Bruno Mantovani’s explosive “Moi, jeu…” then takes over seamlessly on a single pitch, and indeed then looks at what can happen when repeated notes or pulses come up against each other and release a huge amount of energy. Leading directly to “Figment V”once again, which will be heard with fresh, open ears and whilst familiar, somewhat expanded in consequence.

Part II sees three World Premieres for the audience at London’s Wigmore Hall. In the first, a work from 2002 receives a brilliant new, and especially diaphanous sonic backdrop in Dave Maric’s ritualistic and emotional “Sense and Innocence”. Joe Pereira then brings his drummer’s hands to the composer’s craft in his “Word of Mouth II” which draws on material from his terrific Percussion Concerto which I premiered with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2012. This piece often uses his much-favoured extended techniques, including harmonics, open/closed tones, and playing various parts of the drums with one’s hands. Although often groove-based, this work also deals with interruption in music, with the more easy-sounding phrases repeatedly cancelled out by increasingly unsettling gestures. Also, by mirroring the Norgaard, with a near identical set-up, we get to see in both depth and contrast what is capable from the percussionist’s first friend, the humble drum.

Lastly, we welcome a major addition to the solo marimba repertoire, in the shape of Rolf Wallin’s highly heterogenous suite of pieces “Realismos Magicos”. These pieces collide effectively with each other, much like the short stories from which they take their titles, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. One frequently feels the surreality of this magical world, but also its claustrophobia, its instability and its unpredictability. With 11 movements ranging from five seconds to three-and-a-half minutes, this suite is supple, malleable, and by turns graceful and vehement.

I’d like to thank Wigmore Hall for being the prime-mover behind this project and furthermore for granting me an ‘Artist Focus’ series, which will also allow for a Masterclass, one of my roisterous Family Concerts and an informal discussion with James Jolly prior to the recital itself. I personally commissioned the Maric and the Pereira but would like to thank most gratefully the commissioners of the Wallin, who are as follows:

The Wigmore Hall London, with support from Andre Hoffman, president of the Fondation Hoffmann, a Swiss grant-making foundation. The Bergen Festival. Sound Festival, Aberdeen.

The recital, and portions thereof, is now planned variously in the seasons ahead. And I look forward to rejoining that most challenging of forums for these instruments, but one that I hope could be one of its most rewarding.

Colin.

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