Canadian composer Nicole Lizée‘s new percussion concerto, premièred last month in Ottowa, received its first European performance at the Proms last Friday evening. Its title, Blurr is the Colour of My True Love’s Eyes, though somewhat strange at first, perhaps suggests the two main aspects of the work. The first is to do with its overall structure, which takes the form of a series of episodes. The progressions between those episodes are gradual transitions, which can be heard as a blurring of ideas, as one falls away, peters out or morphs into the next. The episodes are, unsurprisingly for a percussion concerto, rhythmically energetic, and these transitional blurs often involve a period of relative repose.
The second aspect is with regard to the episodes themselves, all of which involve an enthusiastic fixating upon their respective materials, getting caught up in their details, cycling them round, forming them into patterns. As the piece continues – and its 31-minute duration is significant in this respect – this fixation is shown to be two-fold, not just applying to each episode as it plays out, but also applying to the work as a whole, being so keen to keep up this process of lovingly playing with and gazing upon successive episodes that it can’t help continuing for an extended period of time. Another way of putting it is to say that what Lizée does in the first five minutes is essentially the same, behaviourally speaking, as everything else that follows, but emerging in continually new but related forms.
There’s almost the sense of Lizée at the controls of a sequencer, setting up a host of different layers and then playing with them such that they slowly coalesce and gain their identity, before being deconstructed and / or cross-faded into one another. That process of coalescence can be deceptive: sometimes an apparent idea turns out to be a brief red herring; other times an idea has become fully-formed before we realised it was taking shape. This is a vital part of the playfulness that pervades Blurr is the Colour of My True Love’s Eyes.
On the one hand, the sense that this is a process that could theoretically keep going indefinitely, starts to niggle after a while, primarily because the essential behaviour of the soloist and orchestra remains constant throughout. As such, it can sound somewhat limited, stuck in a groove where all that changes is the nature of each episode’s constituent gestures and motifs. On the other hand, there’s something fascinating about hearing the music continually change shape like this – like a party with regular breathers, passing through an alternating mixture of exuberant revels and chill zones – and the timbral palette used by Lizée is an attractive one that highlights the discrete strata within each episode, which can often be heard to be progressing at their own individual rates.
Furthermore, despite settling into a clear structural pattern very quickly, the piece maintains an ongoing unpredictable aspect as ever more instruments and sounds are heard for the first time, such as the harp 7½ minutes in, ushering in a weirdly askew lyrical period, shouts of “hey” two-thirds of the way through, a distant whistling and a cheeky flexatone a little later. These unexpected elements ensure that the piece never gets too over-familiar, and that its oscillating conveyor belt of boisterous and temporarily laid-back music keeps sounding fresh and exciting.
The European première of Blurr is the Colour of My True Love’s Eyes was given by percussionist Colin Currie with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Alpesh Chauhan.