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Explosive orchestral percussion: Your weekend arts forecast

Bill DeYoung



Percussionist Colin Currie. Photo provided.

The Florida Orchestra’s Saturday concert at the Mahaffey Theater features a guest soloist whose reputation precedes him; indeed, in the field of contemporary classical music, the Scottish percussionist Colin Currie is pretty much a rock star.

“With facile command, he migrated among (and within) the stations of drums, mallet instruments, gongs and blocks with ease,” said the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a rave review. “But his performance was not merely a virtuosic display, and he drew out finely sculpted phrases from runs on temple blocks or tom-toms.”

Currie during a rehearsal this week with conductor Michael Francis and The Florida Orchestra.

Currie’s main instruments are vibraphone and marimba, which (along with piano) are the most melodic of percussion instruments; yet he is known (and loved) the world over for his seamless integration of all manner of physically-manipulated devices of syncopation and counter-syncopation (read: percussion is a lot more than whacking drums or blocks of wood).

He’s especially known for interpreting the works of 82-year-old minimalist composer Steve Reich; indeed, a piece by Reich – called, wouldn’t you just know it, “Music For Pieces of Wood” – is included on the Saturday program.

Currie will also join the orchestra for “Switch,” by Andrew Norman. The percussionist premiered the complex piece with the Utah Symphony in 2015. Here’s how the composer himself describes it:

“Switch is a game of control. Each percussion instrument (both in front of and behind the orchestra) is a switch that controls other instruments in specific ways, making them play louder or softer, higher or lower, freezing them in place and setting them in motion again. The soloist, dropped into this complex contraption of causes and effects like the unwitting protagonist of a video game, must figure out the rules of this universe on the fly, all while trying to avoid the rewind-inducing missteps that prevent their progress from one side of the stage to the other.

“Instead of being broken into traditional movements, Switch exists as a system of different “channels,” each with its own unique sound world, that are flipped between by the playful (and devious) snaps of the channel-surfing slapsticks at the back of the stage.”

This is, as you’ve no doubt guessed, cutting-edge contemporary music, a bold step for music director Michael’s Francis in his ongoing quest for new horizons for TFO, and the development of new  generations of audience members.

The other half of the program – which is also presented tonight (March 3) at the Straz Center in Tampa – features Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, “Titan.”

Tickets and info for both performances are here.

And now, this

Folk music legend Pete Seeger would have turned 100 this weekend (he died in 2014), and the One City Chorus, with the wonderful local acoustic duo Urban Gypsies, are paying tribute with an all-Seeger tribute tonight at 7, at Allendale United Methodist Church. Admission is free. Come and sing along to “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” I’ll chime in on “Little Boxes.” One of my favorites.

Opening Saturday at the Mize Gallery: Files & Film, a juried photography show, with works by 65 Florida artists. The bay area competition has been in existence since 2014, giving out cash awards, sponsored prizes and reams of priceless networking opportunities (here’s the website). Jurors are Robin Dana, gallery director of ARTicles art gallery & Leslie Curran Gallery; Catherine Bergmann, Curator of Dunedin Fine Art Center; Amanda Cooper, Curator of the Morean Art Center. Mize is open 6-10 p.m. Saturday, with the awards to be handed out at 8:30.

The Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association has a cool Latin-tinged concert Saturday (May 4) at American Stage: It’s an original piece of music called Zorro Suite (yes, the guy with the mask) performed by  The M & M Latin Jazz Ensemble: Michiko Morell (percussion) and Marty Morell (vibraphone), with the La Lucha Trio: John O’Leary (piano), Alejandro Arenas (bass), Mark Feinman (drums), Jeff Rupert (tenor sax) and Gloria Munoz (poetry). Tickets for the 7 p.m. performance are $30.

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