Evelyn Glennie, world famous percussionist, gave a diverse recital Dadafest at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 18 August. Susan Bennett described her performance as astounding as the one at the opening of the Olympics, her whole body attuned to a pitch of performance as stunning as any gold medal athlete.
We held our breath as the rhythm grew apace, impossibly faster. Her hands were a blur, her head creeping lower as she furiously produced what can only be described as a cracking attack from the snare drum. It shot, spat, rolled and shattered molten globules of sound at an incredible pace.
Then a silence, hanging for a mere lifetime of a second, surprised the audience, who had been trying to find space to breathe. Snap – we were back in attack mode as the snare cracked again. For six tense minutes the impact filled your body as you sensed, almost smelt, the primal essence of 'Prim', the piece composed by Askell Masson.
It was a concert of contrasts. Essentially percussive, this was not a harmonic event, as quietly, we were introduced to the Waterphone, almost forced to strain to pick up the strange sounds, an improvisation by Evelyn.
Almost out of sight from the stalls, she sat the very edge of the stage and gently stroked what looked like a shiny metal bird cage. Using brushes, she produced sound that at times was both painful in frequency and faintly elusive. People frowned and cocked their heads sideways searching to make sense of the vibrations. It was like hearing your own tinnitus breaking out to an audience of thousands.
Evelyn not only played but shared how, when challenged by her first teacher to make sounds to show the 'feel' of snow, or the 'feel' of a tractor, she evolved from mere musician to a performer able to fully embody her music.
She demonstrated with the help of volunteers from the audience, how we differently experience sound, the effect of dampening and enlivening techniques on the marimba. Made real by examples of her own consciousness of every aspect of performance, which she uses to enhance her expression and reception of sound, it was fascinating and demanding.
As someone profoundly deaf until a recent cochlear implant operation, I was in two worlds. The one of my own enhanced perceptions, sensitivity to vibration and changes in the air around me, feelings from the floorboards of the concert hall. And in the same moments I was stunned by the cacophony of sounds, the range of which I heard clearly for the first time. It was truly an overdose of sensation, one which left me both reeling and eager for more.
As part of the Unlimited Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, Evelyn Glennie is accompanying the Marc Brew Company for Fusional Fragments on 31 August. Click here to go to the Southbank Centre website for further details.