At orchestra concerts, percussionists can usually be found in the back of the ensemble. But on March 14, 15 and 16, guest percussionist Colin Currie will be front and center on the Orchestra Hall stage for the U.S. premiere of Martland Memorial by English composer Mark-Anthony Turnage. You may have a few questions about this work, so let’s dive in.
Who or what is Martland?
Martland Memorial is named after Steve Martland, another English composer and longtime friend of Mark-Anthony Turnage who passed away in 2013. Turnage was motivated to write a new work in memory of his friend and chose to spotlight the talents of Colin Currie, a friend of both Turnage and Martland who played percussion in Steve Martland’s band. If you’re not familiar with Martland or Turnage, don’t worry—no advance knowledge is required to enjoy the piece!
How did the Minnesota Orchestra come to perform the U.S. premiere?
Colin Currie has worked with Music Director Osmo Vänskä several times, and fans of the Minnesota Orchestra and percussion music might recall that he was featured in the Orchestra’s “Crash! Boom! Bang!” percussion festival in May 2008, when he performed percussion concertos by Jennifer Higdon and James MacMillan. Currie approached Vänskä about the new piece that his friend Mark-Anthony Turnage was writing, and then Vänskä got the Minnesota Orchestra involved as a co-commissioning ensemble.
Is Martland Memorial a percussion concerto?
“Concerto” isn’t officially part of the piece’s title, but the composer calls it a “concerto-style” work, and Colin Currie will be up in front of the ensemble, along with 13 percussion instruments. These include some you might expect in a percussion concerto (vibraphone, marimba, congas, two bass drums and a gong) and others that you might not, such as duck call, motor horn and sleigh bells. A traditional classical concerto typically has three movements, but Martland Memorial is a sequence of six shorter movements, each named after a traditional musical form or genre such as “Rumba,” “Pavane” and “Courante.”
The word “memorial” is in the title, so is this a sad piece?
There’s a lot of emotion in the 20-minute piece, but also some humor, jazz-style harmonies and virtuosic solo passages that spotlight Colin Currie’s talent, particularly on vibraphone. Turnage explained that to make a fitting tribute to his friend, “a grand concerto in the traditional three movements wasn’t quite right here, as Steve was quirky and volatile, with strong beliefs offset by Liverpudlian humor....It’s a long way from the Mahlerian elegy you might have expected from a memorial.”
What else is on the program?
The program starts with These Worlds In Us by Missy Mazzoli, one of today’s most prominent younger American composers, and a 2006 participant in the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute. The second half of the concert features Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony, a heroic American symphony that includes themes from his famous Fanfare for the Common Man.