Written by: Colin Anderson
Find out this Thursday in the Barbican Hall. In my continuing series on the music of Christopher Rouse, current attention is to Wagner’s music-drama cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen.
What has this to do with Rouse? Well, based on one of Wagner’s characters, Alberich, Rouse has composed a 25-minute percussion concerto, Der gerettete Alberich. Written for Evelyn Glennie, another percussion concerto may seem to swell further the existing surfeit of such things. But Rouse is a percussionist himself, a rock-band drummer in his younger days, and aspects of this surface in his concerto; his ’inside knowledge’ of percussion instruments is evident throughout. There is also a strong narrative thread running through the piece, which holds the attention; there are also musical allusions to Wagner’s Ring-music.
This use of quotation is a Rouse signature, as is his music reflecting “what it’s like being alive” – this has produced some pretty dark and dramatic scores. As the composer says: “After devoting most of my creative energy over the years to writing very dark works that explore the anguished, despairing side of life, I felt it was time to come up with something engaging and enjoyable. [Alberich] is meant to be fun, not fun-ny; and I’m not poking fun at Wagner, a composer I love deeply. In a nutshell, I was struck by the notion that the principle villain of Wagner’s ’Ring’, Alberich, is the only character left alive at the end of this huge four-night-long opera, and that Wagner doesn’t explain what happened to him. So I thought I would make up in some very general sense a piece about that.”
Der gerettete Alberich is in three linked section – “Alberich plotting his nefarious schemes, then reflecting on his mis-spent and, in some ways, tragic life, and then he’s on the rampage to once again seek the ring of power to make him lord of the world”. The hypnotic still-centre of the concerto is another characteristic of Rouse’s music, the focus on the interior, several minutes of transporting reflection.
The piece cleverly begins with the final bars of Götterdämmerung. Wagner attended no motif for Alberich, so Rouse uses his “entrance music” to introduce the wild-drumming soloist. “There are overt references to Wagner – I transform them, twist them, corrupt them. One specific image is as Alberich begins his quest for world domination – that he would first serve a stint as a rock-drummer! You hear Wagner’s ’dawn motif’ in the horns; then I metamorphose it into pop music.”
This unexpected performance of Rouse’s percussion concerto replaces what would have been the premiere of one by Steve Martland. Colin Currie will be the soloist with Leonard Slatkin conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra as part of an enticing programme that includes Leonard Bernstein’s Second Symphony, ’The Age of Anxiety’, and pieces by Milhaud and Ravel.
Sadly no recording is available of Der gerettete Alberich – although one was made for RCA by Evelyn Glennie with Slatkin and the Philharmonia Orchestra a couple of years back, the composer present, myself too; cutbacks contrived against the CD’s other works being taped, so this may be a permanent archive document somewhere underground with Alberich himself!
The subject of my next Rouse article will be those scores of his that are not recorded – yet! Meanwhile, Alberich diverts himself to the Barbican this Thursday – complete with drum-kit.
- BBCSO/Leonard Slatkin, Colin Currie (percussion) – Bernstein, Milhaud, Ravel and Rouse, Thursday 21 February at 7.30
- Box Office: 020 7638 8891 www.barbican.org.uk
- Concert to be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Monday 25th February
- Meditation on Madness