One of Colin Currie's career goals is to expand the notion of how percussion fits into classical music.
For example, when Currie takes the stage next Wednesday night at Oregon State University with four string players from the Oregon Symphony, two of the pieces will feature his percussion work in what essentially is a chamber music setting.
Hold on a second: Chamber music, with percussion? How does that work?
"I can see why that wouldn't occur to everyone," Currie said in a telephone interview this week with The E.
But think about it another way: It's not at all unusual for a string quartet to perform with a pianist — and a piano is, of course, a percussion instrument. It's just that Currie will be performing on a multitude of percussion instruments during the performance, which includes three works written specifically for him.
Audiences at Currie's performance shouldn't expect an all-out percussive assault, either: "It's the very opposite of your crash-bang," he said. The pieces are melodic, and feature Currie performing on marimba and other tuned percussion instruments.
"The music obviously has some kick to it," Currie said, but it's melodic and accessible.
In addition to the two pieces Currie will perform with a string quartet comprised of players from the Oregon Symphony, he'll perform a 15-minute solo piece, Rolf Wallin's "Realismos Magicos."
All three pieces, Currie said, "are very vibrant. They're all upbeat. They're very energetic."
The string quartet will perform a work by itself, Quincy Porter's String Quartet No. 3 from 1930. (Symphony players making the trip to Corvallis include violinists Shin-young Kwon and Fumino Ando; violist Charles Noble; and cellist Marilyn de Oliveira.)
Currie, a native of Scotland, is wrapping up a stint as the Oregon Symphony's artist in residence. He's loved his time in Oregon: "It's just been pure joy. I totally fell in love with the orchestra and the city of Portland."
The Wednesday concert in Portland, part of this season's "SAC Presents" series sponsored by the OSU School of Arts and Communication, also represents an outreach effort from the Oregon Symphony. Monica Hayes of the symphony said the organization would like to pursue other efforts like this in the future, at the university and in other mid-valley schools.
Currie's trip to the mid-valley will include a master class with OSU musicians as well as the performance. During those classes, he said, he encourages students to identify and highlight what's authentic in the music they're performing.
Such exploration has been a hallmark of Currie's career from the start: "I just started exploring the sounds around me," he said, and assembled a toy drum set, piece by piece. He started his musical studies at age 5, and "it just snowballed from there." Early exposure to classical music triggered his efforts to explore the intersection of percussion and classical music, work that has continued to this day.
Currie has formed his own record label and is the founder of the Colin Currie Group, devoted to performing and recording the works of seminal American composer Steve Reich.
He also has earned a reputation as a champion of new music and through his own commissions has expanded the repertoire of music available for classical percussionists. He's even told students, "If you write me a good piece, I promise I will perform it" — and has followed through with that promise.
But he understands that there's a place for the warhorses of the classical repertoire as well: "No one is going to argue with a Beethoven symphony," he said. "The answer for orchestras is always to include some new music in every program."