Evelyn's good vibes about Bury St Edmunds Festival
Solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie has found a gap in her busy schedule to star at this year's Bury St Edmunds Festival. Jane Sneesby finds out more about a highly original musical virtuoso
Solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie has found a gap in her busy schedule to star at this year’s Bury St Edmunds Festival. Jane Sneesby finds out more about a highly original musical virtuoso
Dame Evelyn Glennie, the world’s best known solo percussionist, is headlining at this year’s Bury St Edmunds Festival after years of forward planning to find a space in her hectic performance diary.
Festival manager Nick Wells had to wait for three years to book Evelyn because of her busy schedule.
Her concert on Sunday, May 29 at the apex will see her performing some of the most impressive pieces written for percussion over the last 30 years including a unique performance of Rzewski’s To The Earth using a set of four flowerpots.
Nick says: “Evelyn is one of the most eclectic and innovative musicians on the scene today so I am thrilled that she will be performing at the Festival in the brilliant acoustic of the new apex concert venue.
By combining superb technique, a profound appreciation of the visual and her astonishing musicality, she creates performances of such vitality that they almost constitute a new type of performance.” Born in Aberdeen in 1965, Evelyn played mouth organ and clarinet and performed on piano in local old folks homes as a child.
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She started to play percussion at the age of 12 and went on to study percussion and piano at the Royal Academy of Music, London.
Evelyn became profoundly deaf by her teens but refuses to link hearing loss with being an extraordinary musician.
She lip-reads so well that people often don’t realise she cannot hear fully and she uses vibrations to feel sounds.
On her website she writes: “I hope that the audience will be stimulated by what I have to say (through the language of music) and will therefore leave the concert hall feeling entertained.
If the audience is instead only wondering how a deaf musician can play percussion then I have failed as a musician.
“I need to lip-read to understand speech but my awareness of the acoustics in a concert venue is excellent.
For instance, I will sometimes describe an acoustic in terms of how thick the air feels.” Evelyn performs barefoot so that she can feel more connected to the sound, walk quietly around the stage, and be at her natural height to play the instruments.
In concert, she plays up to 60 instruments including gamelan, xylophone, marimba and timpani, and often stands at 90 degrees to the audience so they can see the drum skins vibrating.
Among her collection of 1,800 instruments, several of which she designed herself, her favourite is the snare drum as it’s compact, hugely rewarding technically and musically, and comes in many varieties.
Evelyn also plays the Great Highland Bagpipes.
It takes around four hours to set up the instruments for Evelyn’s recital and about two hours to strip them all down after the performance.
She keeps percussion sets in several countries to support her busy schedule and save transporting the equipment, which can weigh up to two tons.
Evelyn gives more than 100 performances a year and travels worldwide to perform with the greatest conductors and orchestras.
She has collaborated with artists as diverse as DJ Yoda, Nana Vasconcelos, Kodo, Bela Fleck, Bjork, Bobby McFerrin, Sting, Emmanuel Ax, Kings Singers, Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Fred Frith.
Evelyn made her Prom debut in 1989 with the first ever solo percussion recital and has performed in at least 13 Proms since.
She has commissioned 160 new works for solo percussion from eminent composers, won a BAFTA for her film and television compositions and received two Grammy awards for her recordings.
As well as performances, Evelyn’s teaching and masterclasses are much in demand and her diary is filled with meetings, speeches, award ceremonies, school visits and openings.
She has also written a best selling autobiography Good Vibrations and appeared in a wide range of films and television programmes, including making Touch the Sound with the renowned film director Thomas Riedelsheimer, presenting Soundbites for the BBC, and playing garbage cans with Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street.
Evelyn supports many children’s charities and underwent her most challenging event ever in December 2010 when she successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro as part of her pledge to raise �25,000 to provide educational facilities for disabled children in Africa.
A patron of the charity Able Child Africa, she said: “I have good reason to recognise the importance of education for all children; it empowered me to make my own unique journey in life.
In addition to raising much needed funds for Able Child Africa, my aim is to show that disability is not inability and that young disabled people have both rights and potential just like anyone else.” Last year, Evelyn learned to play the double bass and passed her Grade 1 with distinction to raise �1,500 in aid of EACH, East Anglian Children’s Hospices, and this year she is teaching celebrity beginners to play percussion to raise funds.
In her spare time, Evelyn loves to draw, paint and enjoys exploring antique fairs and gardening.
She is the proud owner of an MV Agusta F4 motorbike.
Awarded the OBE (Officer of the British Empire) in 1993, she was subsequently made ‘Dame Commander’ for her services to music in 2007.
She was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society (PAS) Hall of Fame in 2008 and has received 86 international awards.
Evelyn says: “Music is a universal language but with lots of dialects.
It is the one subject which can overcome the language barrier.
Whenever there’s a drum, there is communication.
There are no clan barriers with percussion, I can share it with babies all the way to the elderly.”