Evelyn Glennie with Michael H. Brauer, QEH, 23 July 2000 (MB)
The closing concert of Rhythm Sticks 2000 could not have been more spectacular. There were no set structures, no boundaries or parameters to determine what could and couldn't be played. This was simply improvisation and computerisation at its most inspired.
The experience was as much visual as it was aural. The QEH stage had been set to resemble a cross between a junk yard and the bridge of a Sci-fi battleship. A mini had been spliced down the middle and placed centre stage, with a vast array of percussion placed around it. Computers and mixing equipment were placed at the rear. Cameras from both wings of the hall projected images of Glennie and her accompanists against the back, whitened wall. The percussion was variously illuminated in shades of green, crimson and purple. It was both stroboscopic and sublime.
The music itself had a quite staggering range. Philip Smith, on piano, played Chopinesque trills that lead into furious clusters of chords from the deepest part of the keyboard. He struck the ivory with his fists and with his palms one moment and then stroked them like a cat the next. Pitched tessitura notes were Stockhausian in their nobility. Although principally chromatic, it didn't always appear so. Glennie herself stalked around the stage barefoot. At any given moment she could be playing the marimba with glorious tone and pianissimo phrasing, or battering it with trenchant velocity. Her playing on percussion produced awesome climaxes - with gongs and bass drums leaving a persistent echo. A snare drum was used to capture us eavesdropping on a whisper only for us, minutes later, to be privy to a stream of vitriolic argument. Her voice, through a series of calls and refrains, was immediately remixed so it echoed and reverberated around the hall.
This vast 100 minute work had begun with a mixed orchestral accompaniment and Glennie's own chime-like incantations. It ended with Glennie off stage, and among the audience, playing exactly the same opening. We had come full ellipsis. It would be untrue to say the inspiration was complete throughout the time span of the work, which at well over an hour and a half did tend to become tiresome. And there were moments towards the close of the work when the piano was all but obliterated by the explosion of computerised sound. But, as a one-off event it proved something of a revelation.
Editor's note: This concert relates closely to the new Glennie/Brauer CD of improvisations shadow behind the iron sun RCA BMG 09026 63406-2 (71.11), a vastly impressive demonstration of the range of percussive possibilities from a huge array of instruments, from evocative wisps of sound to tumultuous orgies of violence, involvement of several other musicians and state of the art mixing.
It was recorded in a studio over five days in October 1998, with no thought towards live presentation. The notes are excellent and the division into titled tracks (attack of the glow worm; icefall; warrior's chant etc) makes it perhaps a less tiring proposition for the listener than the 100 minute recital reviewed above for S&H. Marc Bridle makes it abundantly clear that Evelyn Glennie is an artist who is not content to stand still, and is continually seeking new directions to express her prodigious talent. Perhaps she too has become disappointed and disillusioned by some of the ephemeral commissioned compositions she has premiered? (Michael Daugherty's UFO was one of the worst; see also the S&H review of LPO/Metzmacher/Glennie RFH 4 March.)
Entering the 21st century at her peak and with long experience at the top, perhaps Evelyn Glennie feels she can now do as well without composers and notated scores? PGW
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