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BBC Proms 2010: Prom 13 \ Table of Noises \ Colin Currie \ BBC NOW

July 26, 2010

Music is often blighted before it’s even played by the basic human need to label everything.

If it doesn’t have a discernible melody or is so completely different from our usual experience, we’ll struggle to feel comfortable.

And if we can’t feel comfortable or we don’t think we can feel comfortable, then the prospect of listening to something new will seem like an arduous task.

But there is a different way to listen: to let go and just listen. Because for the most part, contemporary music (or the wider slightly less contentious label of ‘modern music’) can throw up some surprises when one does so. Trust your instincts. Monitor those instinctive reactions to what you hear.

Simon Holt’s percussion concerto A Table of Noises written for BBC Young Musician winner Colin Currie is one such work. An entry point to the sometimes scary world of contemporary composition, affording considerably more freedom for the concert goer than most might at first assume.

Players from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales were canidid when I spoke to them about contemporary music last week, saying that more often than not orchestral players (who by virtue of their rehearsals will know the new work better) can sometimes be just as in the dark as to what a composer intended his listeners to think or feel as the audience often is.

With that in mind, Holts work – like countless other new works before it – didn’t bring with it the weight of history or musical analysis.

Instead, the audience heard a suite of six reasonably short movements featuring various percussion instruments playing repeatedly and increasingly inventively. Arresting and seemingly inexplicably engaging rhythmic sequences rattled around the Royal Albert Hall. They were going to. Colin Currie’s boundless enthusiasm is unequivocal – even from the back of the auditorium.

Holts cadenza achieved exactly what that of cadenza in any traditional concerto does – showcasing the soloists prowess.

Currie’s playing seemed to cut through any recollections of the usual more standard Proms repertoire, drawing the audience in, keeping them there for the duration and resulting in a feeling of near primal ecstasy, every bit as exhilarating a listen as any ‘traditional’ tour-de-force concerto.

Most importantly however, composers of new music aren’t always writing for a recording. Some – as was demonstrated in Holts work this evening – are writing for live performance. That demands a certain sympathy for the audience, writing material which isn’t overwhelming in scale and which has the potential to excite visually as well aurally.

Not only was Holts mastery scoring demonstrated in Table of Noises, but appreciation for it was also reflected in the warm applause from tonights audience,

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  1. Listening at home – or if I am honest half listening – I have to admit that after the first few minutes of this new work I turned off my radio. I agree it is important for new orchestral music to be written, otherwise it will simply become a dead art form. However, I don’t feel under any obligation to like it any more than I feel under an obligation to like any other style of music. I certainly wasn’t in the mood for it yesterday evening.

  2. *Nods* It probably didn’t work on the radio. 😉

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