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Percussionist David Currie Delights in Montreal

Maison symphonique de Montréal, Place des Arts
09/27/2023 -  & September 28, October 1, 2023
Nicole Lizée: Blurr is the Color of My True Love’s Eyes
Gustav Holst: The Planets, opus 32

Colin Currie (Percussion)
Chœur de l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Andrew McGill (Chorusmaster), Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Gemma New (Conductor)

C. Currie (© Antoine Saito)

New Zealand conductor Gemma New and the British percussionist Colin Currie joined the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) this week for a riveting performance of Montreal composer Nicole Lizée’s Blurr is the Color of My True Love’s Eyes. Co-commissioned by the BBC and Ottawa’s National Arts Center Orchestra, it received its premiere in Ottawa in August 2022, and shortly after its European premiere at the BBC Proms.

The 32‑minute work for large orchestra and myriad percussion instruments (maybe somewhere around 50!) comprises a series of a dozen or so interconnected episodes, each of which grows in complexity and force as more instruments join in. The episodes are linked by quieter interludes during which Mr Currie moves (and at times races) from one set of percussion instruments to another. Three expanded kits were positioned in front of the orchestra and spanned almost the width of the stage. This, in addition to the regular percussion section at the orchestra’s rear.

In a recent interview with Panm360, Lizée noted that the work was “inspired by certain techniques found in stop motion film and photography, for example, freezing, extreme and misuse of zoom and blur, dropped frames, image burn‑in/ghost images, light leaks, and multiple exposures...the orchestra and soloist are used here to sonically represent and embrace these erroneous ‘events’...The piece is ultimately about exploring the unknown, taking risks, and embracing ‘blurry things’...while using percussion as a vehicle...to represent the infinite possibilities of writing music with the idea that all sound is music.”

The percussion palette ranges from keyboards, bass drums, electric-acoustic guitars, clapping hands, “chesse” sounds from the human voice, wooden spoons and even cheery‑red packing tape! The changing combinations of sounds, from the tenderest string glissandos to thumping double basses echoing plucked guitar strings (with at times Mr Currie playing at least five instruments at once!), enthralled and kept me in anticipatory suspense to see and hear what came next. “Blurr” in the title (a riff on the Appalachian folk song Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair?) is an apt term for the morphing and blurring of one episode into the next.

This work is undoubtedly a challenge to conduct, however Ms New’s sweeping but firm gestures never allowed the pulse and rhythmical changes to flag. She deftly managed the balance and entries as well as the dynamic progressions within each episode.

Blurr, with its emphasis on cosmic proportions and exploring the unknown, was a suitable companion to the concluding work, Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Sitting in the fourth row of the Parterre, I felt that the opening “Mars” movement (with its triple and concluding quadruple fortes) was the loudest musical performance I’ve ever experienced. For the only time in my listening career, my ears hurt! The rhythmic ostinato for timpani and strings, combined with the brass fanfares in the opening “Mars” movement created a terrifying, apocalyptic vision. In the subdued “Venus” movement, Concertmaster Andrew Wan performed his solo with a soft and tender touch. “Mercury” seemed to be in effortless flight as it skipped across the heavens.

The cohesion and shimmering sheen of the strings in the middle section of Jupiter was so impressive that I thought I was listening to the Philadelphia Orchestra of earlier years. The haunting atmosphere in the first half of “Saturn” gave way to the comfortless pealing of the bells and low notes on the organ. The wild dance of “Uranus” was tossed off with verve and panache. And women from the OSM Chorus blended delicately and seamlessly with the orchestra in the concluding “Neptune.”

Earl Arthur Love



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