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Community Performance Review – Dame Evelyn Glennie

The following is the sixth installment of a series of articles from SABIAN Community members who were asked to submit original reviews, road stories and drum/percussion articles.

Performance: Bridgewater Hall (Manchester, UK), March 19, 2010

I have seen a number of different performances at the Bridgewater Hall, and indeed have played there myself, so naturally I felt very at-home taking a seat for the performance. Nothing could have prepared me for what was about to take place though.

The stage was backed with a large black acoustic curtain, and with careful lighting an expectant mood was set. As the place was simply littered with percussion instruments, I couldn't help playing the naming-game with my sister (trying to show off as a knowledgeable percussionist) but I was at a total loss for names for half the weird, and interesting-looking objects laid out. To warm, friendly applause, the small figure of Dame Evelyn Glennie took to the stage and quietly made her way to a huge marimba stationed at the back. I've not heard much professional marimba-playing but could tell immediately this was a true masterclass. Exploding into life with seemingly thousands of intricate, staccato notes, each picked out with perfect precision, Glennie moved up and down the instrument, teasing out mind-bending patterns with dazzling speed. Inspiring these attacks with incredible control and dynamics, the Scot commanded the attention of everyone in the place and was almost playing us at the same time, invoking emotion and awe into the large audience.

Upon the completion of this stunning opener, Glennie demonstrated her more experimental side. Slowly, she danced her way to the front of the stage and knelt down to play around with shakers, rattles, chimes and many things without names (I'm suspicious that she may have invented a few herself!). As she brought haunting and unnatural sounds out of this array of objects, I mused on such a 'modern-art' approach from someone who is so classically well-trained. I suppose it is too cheesy to say something like 'music crosses boundaries' but this performance stood out to be not just technically perfect but also evolutionary and innovatory.

Dancing her way majestically over to the grand piano she stroked long, wailing noises out of some instrument or item I couldn't quite make out, before sitting down next to her accompanist Philip Smith (incidentally, a vague family friend, though we have never met). Together, they demonstrated a complex, mesmerising duel-mastery over the keyboard, incorporating classical elements with the most profound dynamics and, again, precision (I am personally a huge admirer of pianists, as it is a skill I am sure I will never posses!).

As the concert progressed, this partnership interlinked seamlessly, as Glennie gave a nod or two to count them into each piece before the two musicians flew through another series of tempo-defying crescendos broken with delicate, melodic lulls of beautiful harmony. The idea of combining a solo percussionist with a single piano accompaniment is not one I have come across too regularly, though it is certainly something I will look out for in the future. Glennie and Smith traded notes, phrases, scales and patterns flawlessly for 90 minutes, sometimes doubling-up to layer their melodies on top of each other, but never getting in each other's way.

Highlights for me included a snare drum (and piano, of course) piece which Glennie used to start the second half. Incorporating rudimental marching techniques, perfectly smooth rolls and again interesting techniques (this time involving the snare wires, the sticks, the rims…) she managed to play just about every part of the instrument you usually forget is there! Her incredible skills also transfer perfectly to the drum kit, and as she solo-d her way around her pink tartan setup (Wikipedia informs me this is an official, registered tartan known as “The Rhythms of Evelyn Glennie”) I found myself admitting that this was possibly the best drum solo I have ever seen performed. Imagine the dexterity of Buddy Rich, the groove of Chad Smith, the musicality of Bozzio, the precision of Portnoy, the diversity of Minnemann, the speed of Mayer….and you still probably have just half the skills this phenomenal musician launches from within her tiny frame.

Of particular interest for me was the few minutes Glennie spent stationed behind a set of crotales and a full array of what can only have been her signature 'Glennie's Garbage' cymbals. The naming could not be more appropriate, as they each punctuated Smith's playful handiwork with short, aggressive bursts of trashy over- and under-tone and white noise. Their rapid decay leant itself nicely to playing almost melodic patterns between the different-sized models, which also blended nicely with the various bells, chinese and O-Zone splashes she positioned at each 'station' on her playground.

Most people know that Glennie has been almost totally deaf all her life, which is the final twist behind this inspirational performance. She plays barefoot, in order to better feel the vibrations from her instruments and her accompanist, emphasising the acoustic, physical nature of percussive sound. What was most incredible for me though, was that after taking a penultimate bow, Glennie gave a short thank-you speech from centre stage. Her genuine gratitude towards everyone clearly comes from a deep love of music and percussion, and it was almost moving to consider how many barriers she has overcome to demonstrate and share her extraordinary blessings in music.

The sole disappointment of the night came after the concert had ended. PA announcements told us the Dame Evelyn Glennie would be signing CDs in the foyer, but whilst queuing to pick up a copy I was told they had sold out of CDs during the interval – such is the appreciation of the public for this tremendous talent.

No doubt she will carry on adding to her already extensive collection of titles for many years – from 'Scot of the Year 1982', to being awarded her DBE in 2007 (not to mention a Sabian lifetime achievement award whilst just 40 years of age!). I am sure, however, that it is not recognition or fame which is the driving force behind her exciting and comprehensive career. Rather, it comes from a much deeper joy found when in touch (quite literally) with music. Never miss the chance to see her perform.

Unfortunately the venue does not allow photography.

Written by: Phil Chamberlin (Community Profile: phil88)


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