Concert sReview

Adrian Spillett and 4-MALITY, Purcell Room, 16 July 2000 (MB)
4-MALITY are: Adrian Spillett, Jan Bradley, Geir Rafnsson & Stephen Whibley

 As the great orchestras desert the South Bank during the summer months - either on an exodus of foreign tours, or to play their part in the great festival of music on the other side of the Thames - the Royal Festival Hall, QEH and Purcell Room become stages for a series of innovative music festivals. One of these is Rhythm Sticks, now in its sixth year, and one of the biggest percussion festivals of its kind in the world.

This 9 day drumfest continued on Sunday evening with Adrian Spillett (the 1998 BBC Young Musician of the Year) and his quartet, 4-MALITY. Founded in 1999, and all students of the Royal Northern College of Music, their music making was simply outstanding, young artists grooving at their considerable best. It is one of the most enjoyable things I have reviewed this year.

Starting with Geir Rafnsson's Hekla for solo marimba, a musical portrait of Iceland's majestic volcano, and ending with Jan Bradley's stunningly inventive In-Line, for drum quartet, this concert crossed the landscapes of Afro-Caribbean, Japanese, Indian and classical music. If Hekla was haunting in its beauty, the contrast with Stephen Rush's Mas Fuerte was all the more evident. This study in non-pitched loudness, set around a fundamental bass drum, shattered the senses. Stephen Whibley's own composition, Monsoon, is little short of masterly. Divided into three movements it starts with marimba quartet and vibraphone, develops into a second movement set around percussion and climaxes with a short third movement back on the marimbas. The work moves like a vortex sweeping everything into a tumultuous, swirling world of minimalism and melodic invention. The virtuosity was breathtaking.

Julian Warburton (a guest soloist for the evening) gave the premiere of Jugalbandi with 4-MALITY. Literally translated as 'jamming session', this wonderful piece opens with a Raga, and progresses through subsequent sections (mostly fast) that reflect a variety of Indian rhythms. The idiom is not predominantly Indian (in fact, I thought it at times Stravinskian) but it leaves a fresh and indelible impression. Keiko Abe's Conversations in the Forest IV produced perhaps the most staggering marimba playing of the evening, with Adrian Spillett and Stephen Whibley knocking spots off each other.

If anything showed the empathy that exists within this quartet, with the homogeniety of their playing and symbiosis of rhythm laid out for all to hear (and see), it was Bradley's In-Line. Starting with a single percussionist on covered snare drum, and working through the quartet until all are playing, the work relies for its effect on the visual art of seeing all players striking various percussion instruments simultaneously. The cumulative power of the piece is unforgettable as is the virtuosity required in playing it. I was left open mouthed by the sheer brilliance of it.

Part of this quartet's success lies in their own enjoyment in making music not just for themselves but for others. All strike me as outstanding players in their own right (although I think Stephen Whibley to be quite the most exceptional musician). Their rapport and banter with the audience were key elements of the evening. I urge everyone to hear them.

Marc Bridle

Rhythm Sticks 2000 runs at the South Bank until 23 July.

Other RNCM reviews:
Melinda Maxwell, Richard Benjafield and the RNCM Percussion Ensemble 
RNCM Wind Orchestra at the RNCM 22nd March 2000
Composer Martin Butler 40th Birthday Concert RNCM

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