Friday, June 29, 2007

Music Review: Colorado Music Fest and Colin Currie give outstanding performance at Chautauqua Auditorium

Colin Currie and the Colorado Music Festival orchestra received a standing ovation for the "West Coast premiere" of Higdon's Percussion Concerto at Chautauqua Auditorium on Thursday night.

Currie is clearly a virtuoso percussionist, moving with alacrity from classical marimba, to vibraphone, bongos, trap set, woodblocks, cow bells and a multitude of percussion instruments that "click and clack," in Currie's words. More than an excellent technician, Currie plays with a musicality not often associated with percussion. His playing is both powerful and sensitive, moving through the dynamic opening and closing sections of Higdon's piece through the lyric middle section where Currie simultaneous bowed and played the marimba with mallets. A highlight of the piece is the cadenza written by Currie himself, where he incorporates African rhythms, jazz (did I hear Gene Krupa?), polyphonic rhythms and thematic elements from the work itself.

The CMF percussion section shone as they added point and counterpoint to Currie's musical dialogue. No longer relegated to counting 120 measures before coming in with a single triangle stroke or roll on the timpani, the musicians obviously enjoyed themselves and the opportunity to "strut their stuff" as well as to play with a master like Currie.

The evening opened with a beautifully played Canzon noni toni a 12 by Gabrieli. CMF Musical Director Michael Christie created a "surround sound" effect by placing sections of the brass around the auditorium, where they called to and answered each other.

The evening ended with the pictorial tone-painting of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome. Although classical repertoire standards, the CMF performance of these pieces felt fresh and engaged. Fountains featured beautiful washes of color and finely executed solos by the woodwinds, 1st violin and horns. Pines moved from an enthusiastic and lively opening through a stunning transition to the moody, languorous 2nd movement with exotic rhythmic motifs and subtle use of symbols, to the stately 3rd movement reminiscent of armies treading ancient Roman roads. The piece closed with a return to the "surround sound" effect of brass placed throughout the auditorium, calling to each other, and joining with organ in the exhilarating climax expertly handled by Christie and the CMF.

Altogether, Christie created a diverse yet coherent program that worked on many levels. The younger set will enjoy the excitement of the percussion virtuosity and the novelty of "surround sound" classical music, while music aficionados and amateurs alike will doubtless be caught up in the obvious joy these musicians have in working under the baton of Christie.

The Colorado Music Festival presents a repeat of this program, aptly named "Rhythms and Tones," on Friday, June 29 at the Chautauqua Auditorium. For tickets and information: 303-449-1397,

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