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S & H Prom Preview

Prom Preview: Joe Duddell on ‘Ruby’ (MH)

My father didn’t differentiate between the Beatles and Mozart or whatever." Joe Duddell recalls the path that led him to a BBC commission and a Prom première. ‘I saw a drummer on "Top of the Pops" – Fat Larry? He had an amazing glittering drum kit. Mum took me for a lesson. I was hooked.’ And happy ever after. ‘Drummers never get tired of practising. Drummers and guitarists never complain.’

The tones are proudly Mancunian. Influences have included The Smiths, Steve Martland, Tippett, Stravinsky, Steve Reich, Radiohead…’And a lot of Schubert recently.’

Er, yes. If the eclectic approach doesn’t enlighten perhaps the new work’s title will: ‘Ruby’. Who or what is Ruby? Duddell looks haunted. The piece was written for percussionist Colin Currie, the brilliant Scot who was the first percussionist to make the finals of the BBC Young Musician of the Year. Currie – Ruby Murray. ‘Just a joke,’ he says sheepishly. ‘When I told Colin he said, "That’s awful!" One of the rhythmic aspects comes from Indian music so its doubly stupid. A lot of my titles have weird connections that the person playing knows about. Private jokes…’

On Friday the newly invigorated Bournemouth SO under the charismatic American Marin Alsop accompanies the dynamic Currie. Percussion concertos tend to wheel out everything including the kitchen sink as the soloist (usually E Glennie) belts around the platform like une mouche au cul bleu. ‘It’s almost am-dram, all that scurrying around,’ says Duddell disdainfully. ‘I’m anxious to avoid that. I’m trying to reflect the more lyrical side of percussion.’ Even so the score requires ‘three main set-ups. One based on marimba, with bongos, temple blocks, cowbells…Another more metallic set-up with vibraphone, cymbals, tambourine. Then a conventional kit, tom-toms, drums, basically untuned…’ Not forgetting eight tuned gongs. ‘Not that much compared with other concertos,’ says Duddell apologetically. ‘It sounds a lot. And it takes up quite a bit of space.’ The ‘reasonably large’ orchestra throws trumpet, flute, piano and solo double-bass into relief.

Turning 31 this month, Duddell’s fully occupied. Besides teaching at Exeter, his order book’s full. ‘Next year I tackle a string quartet, with a poet, at Chatsworth, for the Derbyshire Literature Festival. There’s another piece for Colin and an LA guitar quartet – getting back to my rock roots.’ For Presteigne (Wales) there’s a festival work for flute, harp and strings. ‘I’m always doing two or three things at the same time.’ He sighs. ‘More jokes about a ruby sizzling on a back burner…’

© Martin Hoyle



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