Monday, 29 October 2012


Colin Currie (Percussion)
Joe Burgstaller (Trumpet)
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory
Saturday (27 October 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 29 October 2012 with the title "Pitch-perfect percussions".

The Second Performer’s Voice Symposium at the Conservatory has sprung forth some unusual concerts and this evening’s tandem of percussion and trumpet recitals was the most wide-ranging of all. The Scotsman Colin Currie is possibly the world’s most famous solo percussionist after his compatriot Scotswoman Dame Evelyn Glennie, and is no less prodigious.

Given that percussion is history’s oldest group of musical instruments, its sound is universal and the first three works in Currie’s recital – by Elliott Carter (USA), Per Norgard (Denmark) and Toshio Hosokawa (Japan) – seemed to coalesce as one. Beginning with the mellow marimba, he soon worked his way to the brighter vibraphone and a bewildering array of unpitched percussion awaited.

His rapid-fire responses on the mallets made for an acrobatic display of adroitness which built up to massive crescendo. Returning to the marimba for Hosokawa’s Reminiscences, the low registers droned and rumbled, and one sitting close enough would have experienced the vibrations in harmony with its reassuring tones.  

Currie closed with British composer Dave Maric’s Trilogy, an eclectic three-part work of disparate inspirations with sampled percussion and amplification augmenting the live performance. The second movement Pelogy skilfully employed the Javanese pelog scale without actually sounding like a gamelan, while the eccentric minimalistic beat of Tamboo rounded off an exhilarating display of all-round virtuosity.

American trumpeter Joe Burgstaller helmed the second recital, and opened with Rafael Mendez’s arrangement of Monterde’s Virgin of the Macarena, a stunning showpiece where the technique of circular breathing to maintain implausibly long passages was employed. A former member of the legendary Canadian Brass, he relived its trademark humour as he played and spoke.

For Astor Piazzolla’s tango Oblivion, he was joined by a brass quartet formed by members from the Singapore Symphony and Malaysian Philharmonic. For once, this popular number rang out with an elegiac quality as it should, much like the Afro-American spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child, which soulfully sang the blues.

A highlight was the World Premiere (above) of Malaysian-American composer Su Lian Tan’s Ming, an evocation of Chinese brush-painted landscapes, its placid waters, gnarled trees, rugged mountains and soaring birds. Partnered by pianist Low Shao Suan, this atmospheric score ambled from impressionistic half-lights to a Messiaen-like timeless calm. Burgstaller’s part used the mute liberally, to tamper the bluesy timbre before going full voice on a song.  

For sheer variety, a Vivaldi-Bach concerto, Duke Ellington’s Echoes of Harlem and an encore where the audience provided a drone (surprisingly in tune!) to Burgstaller’s soliloquy completed the evening’s fine entertainment. 

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