Concert Review

Melinda Maxwell, Richard Benjafield and the RNCM Percussion Ensemble at the RNCM 16th February 2000.

There is no justifiable reason why a concert of contemporary music should lack variety. Traditionally, concert audiences have most enjoyed programmes comprising selected works by the 'old masters', where - most commonly - the musical styles reflect the Classical and Romantic periods. This is a kind of 'safe variety', guaranteed to please almost everyone. However, there are great stylistic differences within each period of classical music and contemporary music is no exception. This was expertly illustrated by the distinguished oboist Melinda Maxwell together with the much sought-after percussionist and Ensemble Bash co-founder Richard Benjafield and the Royal Northern College of Music's Percussion Ensemble.

They began dramatically with a strong performance of Berio's Sequenza VII, accompanied effectively by a persistent B natural on the marimba, followed by the beautifully calm and warm Memories of the Seashore in an arrangement for two marimbas by the female percussionist/composer Keiko Abe.

Have flower pot, will travel! May as well have been the title for the next piece composed by the quirky American composer Frederic Rzewski, who apparently spawned the genre of speaking percussionists. To the Earth for voice and four flower pots (played with bamboo sticks) was an unusual, likeable piece even if the text reminded one of a hippyish chant; mother earth, the birds, the bees, the flowers et al!

The world premiere of a substantial new work for oboe and vibraphone by Anthony Gilbert - who taught composition at the RNCM for many years - followed. The title OS has many meanings, in Ashkenazic Hebrew it means 'sign' or 'warning'; in Latin, 'mouth', and in French, 'bone', all of these have relevance here in a work inspired by a lifelong fascination of the rose windows of Chartes Cathedral. Melinda Maxwell demonstrated great technical skill in this long and demanding work.

Totem, an incisive piece by the winner of the 1999 Royal Philharmonic Composition Award, Jonathan Cole, preceded a terrific work for oboe and multi percussion by his former teacher Simon Holt whose opera The Nightingale is to Blame charmed audiences around Britain during its tour by Opera North last year.

The evening ended with an impressive and energetic performance by two of the RNCM's finest student percussionists, Janne Roukala and Andrew Spillet. Goldrush, in three sections: jazzy, slow, jazzy! is a work by Jacob Ter Veldhuis. Composed for two percussionists playing an array of instruments, the work depict man's struggle in the exploration of new land in search of gold. After many challenges at a frantic speed the end of the piece represents the finding of pure gold, Ter Veldhuis aptly choose instruments such as crotales, chimes and the glockenspiel to illustrate this. A golden end to an evening of new music with both variety and substance.

Ailis Ni Riain

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