Inspiring, world-class artist who’s worked with Bjork, Mark Knopfler and more brings her love of pushing the percussive limits to town for a Friday night concert at MRU’s Bella Concert Hall.
It’s hard to start things on a blue note. But necessary.
Chatting with Dame Evelyn Glennie in a Mount Royal University rehearsal room on this Wednesday morning, it would be wrong not to ask the world-renowned percussionist her thoughts on the horrific events of the previous Monday in her U.K. homeland.
“It’s just unbelievably sad,” the Scottish musician says of the bombing in Manchester. “It’s just such a challenge I think for anybody to comprehend … It’s really, really, really sad for the people involved.”
Making it — if it’s at all possible — that much sadder and tragic, is that the victims were attending a concert by pop star Ariana Grande, many of them perhaps having their first live music experience.
Something that 51-year-old Glennie manages to turn into a positive, the fact that the experience and its importance to the human condition is one that will survive any threat, can survive any attack from an outside force.
“It won’t stop people, it really won’t,” she says. “And I think that is the power of music and the power of the feeling that people get when folk are just all after the same thing, which is just to experience a wonderful event.”
That’s the reason Glennie herself is on this side of the pond, a wonderful event this Friday night at MRU’s beautiful Bella Concert Hall, which will featuring her performing a concert with Calgary’s acclaimed new music group Land’s End Ensemble.
The program, a celebration of the ensemble’s 20th anniversary, will feature Glennie and the group — violinist John Lowry, cellist Beth Root Sandvoss and pianist Susanne Ruberg-Gordon — working their magic on several different pieces, many of them from Canadian composers and all of them new to her.
The same can be said for the world-class artists she’ll be performing with, but it’s a challenge that she’s up for and excited about.
“It’s just fantastic when you get a small group of musicians like this because the rehearsals are so focussed and so flexible and everybody can have their say with regards to what they feel with the interpretation of things, and there’s time to digest all of that,” Glennie says, after only one day of rehearsals. “So it’s really quite special in that respect.
“And they’re just such fine musicians, the Land’s End Ensemble, they really are. And nice people.”
And while they may be nice and incredibly accomplished musicians, it’s hard not to imagine that Glennie’s say might just carry a little more weight in those rehearsals.
Her career has been an astounding one, an inspirational one, with the artist rightfully owning the title of The World’s Premier Solo Percussionist. She has worked with orchestras, composers and others all across the globe, released dozens of her own albums and collaborated with such notable musicians as Bela Fleck, Mark Knopfler and, most notably Bjork.
All of this while being profoundly deaf since the age of 12 — a diagnosis that means most of the hearing she does is through other parts of her body.
But, again, it’s certainly not something that has held her back, not the most impressive thing about her, with Glennie being one of, if not the most in-demand musicians when it comes to all things percussive.
She is an amazing talent.
And that, ultimately, is why Land’s End artistic director Vincent Ho approached her to help the ensemble celebrate two decades of pushing the limits.
Glennie, who has previously worked with Ho, him composing works for her, was more than happy to oblige.
“I like working with Vincent because he’s always out there, he’s always exploring different ideas and different collaborations,” she says.
“He’s so supportive of other composers, too, and that’s one of the reasons why he’s very special actually. He’s not protective of everything. He really wants people to experience new music and know about the composers.
“So I was very keen when the project arose and I thought it was a wonderful opportunity.”
For Friday’s program, the master of many instruments has brought a “few bits and pieces” from her incredible collection, and will perform on everything from a simple drum kit and one cymbal to the cello, vibraphone, tubular bells, metal instruments and marimba.
And the fact that she’ll be using these familiar tools on a collection of unfamiliar works made the invitation from Ho that much more enticing.
“It has to be, otherwise you can sit there and know that you’re within your comfort zone, but that isn’t going to help you progress — you or your situation or what you do in the business in any kind of way. It’s just a way of going backwards, really,” she says.
“There’s always going to be situations where you’re pushing the boundaries or you’re putting yourself into unknown situations. That really is what keeps the curiosity going.”
That, she says, is what keeps her going, the opportunity for “exploring and digging” as a musician.
And she continues to have many various and eclectic opportunities. Heading home after Friday night’s concert, she’ll return to a solo percussion with orchestra project called Signs of Science, which premiered last year at the Edinburgh Science Festival, and which explores “10,000 years worth of man-developed sound,” from stone tool-making to the sound of typewriters, the steam engine, helium and the noises computers make.
The coming months will also see the release of recordings for Naxos Records — works by American composers Joan Tower and Michael Daugherty — and she has also just finished doing some film score work for a short film about Helen Keller and the movie Wonderstruck, both of which were screening this past week at Cannes.
“It’s diverse, and that’s what I enjoy,” Glennie says, noting that this far into her career it’s about “shedding” away pieces that are no longer relevant to her and seeking out ones that now make sense, “what feels right for (my) situation at the time.”
“And that’s what we do really from the first day,” she says. “We’re not always going to be playing with rattles, you know, from when we’re babies.”
“Well, I do. I do. But you know what I mean.”
She laughs again.
“I take that back.”
Which is a good note to end on.
Evelyn Glennie performs Friday night at Mount Royal University’s Bella Concert with the Land’s End Ensemble to celebrate their 20th anniversary. For tickets go here.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.