Guest of the Month April 2013: Dame Evelyn Glennie
Awarded Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2007 Evelyn Glennie is the first person in musical history to successfully create and sustain a full-time career as a solo percussionist. As one of the most eclectic and innovative musicians on the scene today she is constantly redefining the goals and expectations of percussion by creating performances of such vitality they almost constitute a new type of performance.
Dame Evelyn became known to millions of people worldwide when in July 2012 she took a lead role in the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. In collaboration with Underworld, she led 1000 drummers for the world premiere of ‘And I will Kiss’ and also premiered Caliban’s Dream’ on a newly developed instrument called the ‘Glennie Aluphone’ accompanying the lighting of the flame.
More information on Dame Evelyn Glennie’s distinguished career can be found here.
We asked Dame Evelyn for her thoughts on being part of the New Music Biennial judging panel. Here’s what she had to say:
“Throughout my professional career I have been immersed in the creation of new works. When I chose to become a full-time solo percussionist I had no idea my career choice did not exist. I very quickly began to understand that one could only sustain such a career by having a body of repertoire to perform, not just for myself but for future generations. It has been a fascinating and unique journey collaborating with composers from all over the world. Each collaboration has been different and the range of new works have been both dynamic and diverse. It is therefore a natural extension for me to participate in the judging process of the New Music Biennial project, immersing myself in the wonderful creations of the young, up and coming composers as well as our more established individuals. I am interested in the diversity of venues and I am looking for evidence that social inclusion is addressed. Working on this panel has assured me that there is no doubt that we are not short on ideas or talent in the United Kingdom!”
What 5 pieces of music or performances have influenced the work of Dame Evelyn?
I was invited by the wonderful Ann Rachlin, the founder of the Beethoven Fund for Deaf Children, and her husband the legendary pianist Ezra Rachlin, to attend a performance by the Japanese drumming group Kodo. If I could ever demonstrate or offer an example of what it means to feel vibrations through the whole body – this would be the performance I would recommend. It took days for my body to calm down and regain its balance! Every one of my senses was fed to the extreme, so much so that upon trying to leave the busy car park we witnessed young and old emulating the drumming style on their steering wheels! People just had to express the physical power they had witnessed anywhere and anyhow!
As any typical student I was always short of money and always looking for cheap tickets to see our great Orchestras perform in London. I remember participating in the Shell/LSO Scholarship week whereby one of the pieces we needed to prepare was Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov. I didn’t have enough money to buy a ticket so I waited outside the Barbican until after the interval, saw no spare seats. As I peered through the crack of a door a sympathetic usher to spotted me and allowed me to sit on a step inside the hall! I was mesmerized by the performance which felt like being on a roller coaster. It was both exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. I will always be grateful to that usher who allowed me to experience something that really influenced the way I approached the piece in the competition, which I am sure helped me to win it!
Now and again there are artists who seem to capture the imagination like no other. Growing up I was in awe of Kate Bush. Kate for me was the ultimate artist, she was like no other. Her performance of Wuthering Heights really imprinted a life long impression on me because it captured both a unique music and visual presentation in a way that only she could do. I was later deeply honoured when I was told that some people likened me to Kate Bush mostly because she and I sported virtually the same hair style! Of course my voice could not reach the heights of Kate but I was pleased enough about the hair!
Veni Veni Emmanuel, James MacMillan
This epitomises perfection for me. If ever there has been a piece written with such emotional and physical depth, it is this one. When I gave the world premiere of Veni Veni Emmanuel in 1992 I knew I was dealing with a masterpiece and I knew it was going to change the face of percussion in every way. That performance was the first percussion concerto ever to be performed in the history of the Promenade concerts in London. It was the piece that firmly established the notion of solo percussion in people’s minds. There was no going back and to this day Veni Veni Emmanuel evokes the same power and emotion to audiences all over the world.
The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky
When I was 13 years old I found myself in a very exciting situation. Armed with a wash board, sitting in the percussion section of the National Youth Orchestra or Scotland, immersed in the most exhilarating performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring I have ever experienced. I recognised the electric energy that youth brings to performances which is simply life changing. I was exhausted, exhilarated, enthralled, energized as every emotion possible ran through my body. It is a piece that has never disappointed me in all of the performances I have witnessed over the years. But somehow it was that first impression when you are in the middle of part of its creation which will forever be with me.