Colin Currie, left, performs at a recent concert.
Andrew Norman wants you to tell him what you think of his new percussion concerto to be performed by Colin Currie and the Utah Symphony—even if it means getting a rotten tomato in the kisser.
“I’ll wear a cheap suit,” the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based composer says.
He’s half joking, of course. Throwing groceries at Abravanel Hall is discouraged. Still, the idea intrigues Norman. “I’m going out on a limb and I want people to engage with the work. I prefer a strong result either way. If you hate contemporary music, you should come and let me know.”
Norman is often “accosted” after performances of so-called new music by traditional classical music lovers. “They’ve been forced to regularly sit through contemporary music over the decades and they’ve built up a lot of animosity that they unleash on me,” he says. “It’s asking a lot of an audience to suspend their judgements until the end of a performance.”
They could walk out en masse, he admits, briefly flashing on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring riot. “I would love to incite such fervor in a crowd—one way or another.”
At the writing this article, Norman’s concerto was embryonic. The composer was trying out ideas on his percussionist friends’ vibraphones, marimbas and even on tin cans and flower pots–sounds he plans to incorporate in the work. (Put down that tomato!)
It’s his first attempt at a percussion concerto and the 35-year-old admits he’s anxious. “What I find tricky about being a young orchestral composer is that my voice is constantly changing,” he says. “It’s tricky to be putting my work out there. There’s an expectation of greatness and polish in what you are putting in front of experienced musicians.”
Norman met Currie, a 37-year-old Scot based in London, who won a 2010 Grammy for his recording of Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto, several years ago in Salt Lake City and the two artists bonded as they grew into the closest thing to contemporary music rock stars.
Currie is drawn to Norman’s “exuberant” compositions. “He uses colors [timbre] very well and combines sounds exotically,” Currie explains. “The sounds that I make on their own can sound rather crude. But the way Andrew writes for instruments, he is able to change the texture very readily with different combinations of instruments.”
For a younger generation intimidated by symphony institutions, Currie, who is also skilled on a drum kit, says percussion performances welcome a new audience. “It has a mass appeal—it is very easily absorbed. There is something inclusive about this set of instruments. It’s very, very enjoyable live to hear a good percussion performance in the flesh—a recording won’t compare.”
Norman is drawn to Currie’s commitment to “sound in a pure way.” “It’s very physical and exciting to see musicians making these kinds of sounds. We think of people whacking away at drums, but it can be incredibly subtle, too.”
Part of that primordial, visceral aspect of percussion means Currie, too, is willing to risk thrown fruit: “I try to bring the audience close, rather than push them away. I want them to feel part of the action.”