“Colin Currie is probably the greatest percussionist in the world right now.”
This was how Gillian Moore CBE, the Southbank Centre’s Head of Classical Music, introduced Colin, who was conducting the Trinity Laban Chamber Ensemble last Tuesday. The ensemble were performing Steve Reich’s Music for a Large Ensemble and Scottish born Colin Currie had replaced his sticks with a baton to conduct the work.
Reich’s music is renowned for sounding ‘playable.’ Played well, the rhythms lock effortlessly into place and the music seems to evolve naturally, as if it were an autonomous figure playing itself. Show it to a player for the first time, and they’ll probably mutter several profanities under their breath, grab a pencil and begin frantically scribbling all over the music.
Despite the difficulty the piece faces to any accomplished performer, what was striking throughout this performance was the steady rhythm throughout. The percussion was a big reason for this, as the part contains constantly moving rhythms that show the relentless changing of time signatures – their punchy and musical articulation laid a steady foundation for the rest of the ensemble to build on and they communicated the feel for the piece well. The rest of the ensemble mainly emulated this throughout. There were a couple of occasions where entries were not as tight as they could have been but the musicians responded well to these problems and resolved these issues within a bar or two.
In direct contrast to the punchy and articulate percussion, the trumpet section produced a rounded, warm sound. This was perfect in keeping with Reich’s description of the trumpets as a choir and added a three dimensional texture to the work.
Another salient feature was the clean changes between the sections. Currie made it clear when he introduced the piece that it had three sections identified by the bass line – a prominent feature in Reich’s music. This realisation was easily heard throughout the work and prompted the audience to listen out for that all-important bass line. If I were to be particularly picky, it would have been great to have a touch more of it. This was probably less to do with the musicians themselves however, as microphones were used to help with balancing. As a lover of all things with a big bass, my advice for the sound guys would be to go Spinal Tap and turn it up to 11.
Although Reich’s music is renowned for being difficult, Trinity Laban Chamber Ensemble’s performance of Music for a Large Ensemble was a testament to the fantastic musical ability of the performers. As a listener, you could hear the musicians communicating the punchy-like character of the work and any mistakes that were noticed were quickly resolved.
What heightened this was the atmosphere of the gig – the performance was in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall and the vast, open, yet bustling space of the Southbank Centre sharpened the articulate yet entrancing feel of Music for a Large Ensemble.
Plus it was conducted by the “greatest percussionist in the world” – how could you not enjoy yourself?
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