How our Music Library inspired one of the world’s finest percussionists

Hailed as “one of the greatest musicians in the world today” by composer Steve Reich and “the world’s finest and most daring percussionist” in The Spectator, Colin Currie performs regularly with the world’s leading orchestras and conductors.

Colin will be back in Edinburgh to deliver the Young People’s Lecture at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival and was kind enough to write for us about the part our own Music Library played in his musical journey.

Colin Currie

When I was 13 years old I was only dimly aware of the concept of contemporary music. A broad term, as it turned out, for the astonishing variety of music being composed in our time.

I had found a way in to classical music via the excitement of wonderful local youth orchestras, and immediately felt drawn to 20th century music and its powerful developmental surge, its breaking from traditions and myriad stylistic tangents.

The Edinburgh Music Library housed precisely the treasure trove I craved, with its teeming shelves of scores, bound in exotic orange hardcover for the most part. There did I carefully comb for the contemporary, and would first become acquainted with the names and music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, Hans Werner Henze and Elliott Carter, among many others.

The scores of these composers gave me a direct channel to their astonishing, art-altering creativity, and set my mind racing, where it races to this very day.

The fact that Carter himself would, in 2011, write a concertante work for me, one of his very last large-scale works, is unquestionably at the end of a chain that was founded at the Music Library.

“You’ve given an old man a lot to think about” he told me once in a meeting in New York City; well, the Music Library gave ME lots to think about back in the early 90s.

My career of working with composers to create new repertoire for percussion was always inspired by the diversity and interest of the music itself.

This vantage point was made clear to me upon studying the many scores I took on loan from the Library at this early juncture, and I remain incredibly grateful for that insight – given so easily and generously.

In my talk for the Edinburgh Festival this year, I will discuss my life with these composers, the creation of new music and the legacy of classical music.

Naturally, I will focus on its most adventurous and scintillating chapter: the melting-pot of the 20th century and the music of today. With luck, I might also find time to pop in to the Music Library again, there are some things there I need to see.


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