Utah Symphony: On the run with Scottish percussionist Colin Currie

Published April 12, 2014 1:01 am
Music • Colin Currie will join the Utah Symphony in "Figment V" and "Two Controversies and a Conversation."
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Scottish percussionist Colin Currie returns to Abravanel Hall this week, performing two works by Elliott Carter. Currie had been scheduled to premiere a concerto by Andrew Norman, but the composer's music publisher explained that the work is not ready for performance. "[Norman] believes that artistic excellence must take precedence over timeliness in the creative process," said Norman Ryan, vice president of Schott Music, in a news release. The premiere has been rescheduled for the fall of 2015.

Currie will be featured in Carter's "Figment V" for solo marimba, and pianist Jason Hardink and the orchestra will join him in "Two Controversies and a Conversation." Also on the program are "The Representation of Chaos" from Haydn's oratorio "The Creation," Pachelbel's Canon in D and Mahler's Symphony No. 5. Music director Thierry Fischer conducts.

In addition, Currie, Fischer and other Utah Symphony musicians and staff will participate in the 5K portion of the Salt Lake Marathon on Saturday, April 19. Members of the public are invited to walk or run with the orchestra's team; runners in all distances of the Salt Lake Marathon may use the online code dayof5s for a $5 discount on tickets to Friday's or Saturday's concert.

Currie answered questions in email in advance of this week's concerts.

Tell us about the Carter pieces you'll be performing. What does each one tell us about the other? You've written about your experience premiering the "Conversation." Tell us a little more about your experience with the expanded version.

These works are from the extraordinary late Late LATE period by the triple-figured Elliott Carter. They show how his playful and imagination side was emboldened further by an extraordinary technical command by this stage. The music on both works moves naturally and effortlessly around, always spry, always intelligent, always bold. The "Figment V" shows some of the bare bones of the devices used in the concerto. I was delighted when upon listening to the premiere of "Conversations" Mr. Carter felt like he'd like to add some more music. The result is the "Two Controversies," in which, he told me, the two soloists are "a little bit angry" with each other. The "Conversation" (sic) now feels a little more in repose as a result, a resolution of the more testy times seen previously in the concerto. Overall the work is fantastically engaging, and with an enormous amount of variety in the percussion writing. I never play more than a couple of lines on any given instrument before moving, often rapidly, on to the next sounds.

Describe your interaction with Jason Hardink, who will be on piano.

The soloists hardly ever play together in this work. Even if we begin on the same beat, one is playing in groups of 6, the other in 5. I have spoken with Maestro Fischer at length on the work, however, and we are tremendously excited to be playing it together, agreeing that it is extraordinary music, even "sacred" was a word we both felt applied to it. It is the last large-scale work from a master of American modernity, and the final work from a composer who was born at a time when that style simply did not exist.

I enjoyed your blog post about inappropriate applause and believe you identify an important point: With just a little preparation, most concertgoers can intuit when applause is and isn't appropriate. But what's your advice to novice concertgoers who might feel a little intimidated by the conventions of the concert hall?

This is a difficult area, but as with other aspects of life I believe that simple, logical decorum and courtesy will go far to putting minds at rest. If you are introducing applause personally, there is always the risk that it could disturb other concertgoers. Furthermore, if in doubt, leave it out.

Playing percussion seems like a particularly athletic pursuit. How do you keep yourself in condition? (Presumably the 5K in Utah won't be your first.)

I'm very excited about this 5k although I've been warned about running at high altitude! I have run three times in the Royal Parks Half Marathon here in London and am a keen runner, using that as a break in my typical practice day before lunch.

Are there any particular memories of your previous Utah visits you'd like to share?

I am extremely fond of Utah and the USO was only the second U.S. orchestra to book me as part of their main season (I have now performed with 50 North American orchestras!) I have many fine memories … mostly musical and of the wonderful large, green and golden hall and the enthusiastic audiences. —

Courting 'Controversies'

Percussionist Colin Currie will join the Utah Symphony in Elliot Carter's "Figment V" and "Two Controversies and a Conversation," the latter also featuring Utah Symphony pianist Jason Hardink. Also on the program are works of Haydn, Pachelbel and Mahler. Thierry Fischer conducts.

Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City

When • Friday and Saturday, April 18-19, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets • $18 to $55 ($5 more on performance day) at http://www.utahsymphony.org

Also • $5 discount available for Salt Lake Marathon participants; use online code dayof5s



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