By KALEB DAVIES and BRETT CAMPBELL
There must be something in the Scottish water that made the tiny country produce the two most prominent percussionists of the era: Evelyn Glennie and Colin Currie. Still under 40, the Edinburgh-born musician begins his three-year tenure as artist in residence with the Oregon Symphony with this week’s round of outreach activities, culminating in three performances with the orchestra in which he’s featured soloist in fellow Scots composer James MacMillan’s 1992 masterpiece, Veni Veni Emmanuel, which Glennie originally recorded. (Currie has recorded it twice since and played it around 150 times around the world, including with Marin Alsop leading the Eugene Symphony in 2003.) MacMillan’s colorful 25 minute percussion concerto grew out of the composer’s Catholic faith, “a musical exploration of the theology behind the Advent message” and ends with an Easter hymn tune. It’s a big, dramatic piece whose theatricality is enhanced in live performance by the percussion soloist racing from vibraphone to woodblocks to marimba to drum set.
Currie’s performances with the OSO culminate a series of appearances around town, from solo and kid’s concerts at Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center to a performance with Grimm actors at the Cleaners at the Ace hotel, to a Saturday performance with the symphony’s percussion section at the Portland Farmer’s Market at PSU and a solo marimba set at the hip Coava Coffee/Bamboo Revolution. He’ll also work with students from PSU and David Douglas High School and play St. Mary’s Home for Boys. Currie finds percussion to be an excellent gateway drug to music for the kids he’ll be working with at various schools. “Children and adults find percussion enticing “because it’s something people can pick up easily,” he told me. “If you try to play a French horn, you can’t get a sound out of it, but you can pick up a drum and very quickly get a sound as good as anyone can.”