Two people sit cross-legged, side by side, each holding a pair of sticks. For six minutes they strike the floor in a series of fast rhythmic patterns, briefly punctured by Steve Reich-style clapping and silent gesturing. Music, performance art or synchronised soundscape? It is a measure of how deeply the world of percussion has infiltrated art music these past 25 years that the question knows no answer. Plato’s Cave by Casey Cangelosi may have been one of the less substantial contributions to this second instalment of the PLG Young Artists New Year series, but in the context of similar pieces performed by the superb Aurora Percussion Duo, it illustrated how barriers are collapsing between performance traditions.
Devised by Richard Causton, the concert juxtaposed duo percussion with solo accordion, and proved a much more successful – and compact – package than the PLG’s opening salvo on Monday. What it demonstrated was that composers as diverse as Magnus Lindberg and young Nicholas Stuart are equally stimulated by unorthodox challenges. And by responding to those challenges, they bring the unorthodox into the mainstream.
Stuart’s 10-minute Elysium for mixed metallic and glass percussion, a PLG commission, inhabited the border between music and pure resonance. By turning tuned gongs and triangles into cave-like echo-chambers, it created the effect of electronically modulated and filtered sound without any recourse to electronics. Like Meccanico, Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic’s up-tempo display-piece for shared bass drum, two bongos and Chinese gongs, its appeal was as much visual as aural. Neither had anything like the impact of Avner Dorman’s Udacrep Akubrad for two marimbas and percussion, a heady concoction of cross-rhythmic equatorial pulses that built a powerful head of steam.
An accordionist could have cut a quaint figure in this context, but Bartosz Glowacki’s tour d’horizon of solo repertoire seemed anything but. Lindberg and Luciano Berio were represented by works that did not live up to their reputations, but Causton’s Ricercar, a premiere, burnished his. It’s an atmospheric memory piece, relying on the soloist’s subtlety and power of suggestion rather than overt virtuosity. It proved surprisingly effective – an antidote to the usual portrayal of the accordion as a wheeze-bag.