Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan and world leading Scottish percussionist Colin Currie make a dynamic duo.
They’ve worked together for more than 20 years and this week play with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in its Bold Worlds concerts.
Colin Currie has played James MacMillan’s first percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel so many times it is part of his DNA.
So he was well and truly ready for a second concerto from his fellow Scot, when the work had its premiere with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic in 2014.
He’s since played it worldwide, and this week Colin Currie and James MacMillan perform the percussion concerto with the NZSO in its Bold Worlds concerts, which the composer also conducts.
Collin Currie describes the new concerto as vibrant and expressive, using some metallic instruments like steel drums and the newly invented aluphone, which is made from aluminum and bridges the gap between vibraphone and bells.
He says it covers over two octaves, and makes lovely sounds. “It’s quite piercing and rich,” he says.
Sir James has been also been inspired by the metallic sound of the Caribbean steel drums. “I really love it and used it a lot in orchestral music,” he says. “It’s associated with Caribbean dance music and it can be used in many more gentle ways…I used it in a slow almost melodic section.”
“I think a good percussion pieces also realises the sensitivities of the instrument,” Colin adds.
Percussion works also offer the audience a visual spectacle that isn’t available to other musicians. It means the audience can follow the journey the music is making through the actions of the player.
MacMillan hopes audiences will come with open ears. “Most composers are seeking out an ideal listener,” he says. “For me it’s someone who is as curious, hungry and thirsty for sounds and experiences they haven’t yet had.”
The duo will also be working with the NZSO Youth Orchestra next week, which will be quite an experience for the young players. The Youth Orchestra will be playing what Colin calls MacMillan’s vintage classic Veni, Veni, Emmanuel.
Sir James is pleased more youth orchestras are attempting the ambitious work. “I remember writing Veni… and thought it was quite a tricky piece for the orchestra,” he says. “I’ve noticed a few young orchestras have picked it up. The playing standards are getting better and better and they can make it sound good.”
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