Scottish percussionist Colin Currie revels in his Portland visits. An Oregon Symphony guest soloist for the past 15 years, for the last three years he's performed here annually, as the symphony's official artist-in-residence. In that time, Currie discovered (and fell in love with) Nong’s Khao Man Gai, and he’s on a first-name basis with owner Andy at fish-and-chip cart the Frying Scotsman. He’s even collaborated on a project with actors from the television series Grimm for an Ace Hotel event two years ago.
Sadly, Currie’s next visit is a bit of a farewell. On April 6, he's got a free solo recital at the Japanese Garden. Then on April 7–9 he performs with the Oregon Symphony in a three-concert series that formally concludes his residency. These performances punctuate a packed schedule that also includes master classes at the University of Oregon and Oregon State, community outreach visits (Currie connects with the residents at St. Mary’s Home for Boys each time he's in town), and perhaps even one or two unscheduled pop-up events—say, at a local coffee shop. “I might just walk up with a marimba and have myself a nice espresso,” Currie says.
Here's hoping he's not joking. We caught up with the elite musician—called “the world’s finest and most daring percussionist” by the Spectator—in advance of his flight back to PDX. On topic: food cart meetings, the evolving symphony-goer, and "ravishing" Ravel.
What is it you love so much about Stumptown?
I think it’s the ambience. It’s quite informal but everything is of a very high quality: the attention, for example, to the culinary scene. It’s quite amusing, almost. [Oregon Symphony music director] Carlos Kalmar wanted to have a meeting with me; he wanted to go to a restaurant. And I said, 'Can we go to a food cart instead?' So we actually had a meeting at a food cart!
Some arts organizations seem concerned that they’re not reaching younger audiences. If there’s a generational divide in appreciation for classical music, how would you bridge that?
I think the key might be education. There needs to be more work at the grassroots. In schools, particularly, so people realize the importance and strength of this music. Arts organizations need to work more closely with schools, have more education events. It’s a concern. But there are also many arguments that the audience for this type of music is in fact growing. I’m not pessimistic. People’s tastes are far-ranging these days, and the accessibility of music is enormous.
You've been performing since childhood. What shifts have you noticed among more conventional concert-goers—say, the Beethoven-and-Brahms set—in the last few decades?
I’m always happy when the more seasoned concertgoer, perhaps later in their listening life, makes a change and discovers new music. That’s been my experience a lot; I’ve met people who have been going to the symphony for years and are really surprised and excited by some of the music I’ve played. And that’s led to them making discoveries they never thought they’d make, at least at that point in their life.
What should Portlanders know about your concert finale?
I’m playing Corigliano in the first half. Ravel is the second half; it's this sumptuous, gorgeous, large-scale work. And it’s not performed very often like this. This is complete—that’s really worth hearing. And they have a chorus, and it’s going to be quite marvelous, absolutely ravishing. It’s one of the most celebrated scores in terms of its coloristic qualities—very beautiful, very lavish, very sensual. My contribution [during the Corigliano piece] is a little more quirky, intense but also very beautiful I would say.
Sounds like a beautiful way to close a chapter. But! There will be other Portland chapters, yes?
I hope so! I think it'll go back to my standard relationship with the orchestra where I come back every two or three seasons. The artist-in-residence thing has been a fantastic opportunity for me, and I will miss it. I’ve gotten used to being in Portland every year; I relish every minute.
7:30 p.m. Sat–Mon, Apr 7–9, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, $25–120
3:30 p.m. Fri, Apr 6, Portland Japanese Garden, FREE