What self-respecting Aucklander wouldn't feel proud on being told that his hometown is a wonderful metropolis?

That's the assuring judgment of Scottish percussionist Colin Currie, here for two concerto gigs with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the NZSO National Youth Orchestra.

Currie doesn't stop there with the praise. Auckland, he says, is a terrifically modern and vibrant city; its virtues summed up in two words that almost evoke the sound of some of his more exotic instruments: slick and swish.

Currie is at the top of his field and, returning to play with the NZSO for the third time, deems it well worth the travel to work with a really first-rate and highly collaborative orchestra.


While violinists and pianists forge careers with Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, percussionists, with a solo repertoire that only dates from the last century, must deal with the contemporary.

You sense the adventure Currie has with today's music when he admits he never quite knows what differences a composer might make, whether dealing with conventional or less conventional instruments.

He enjoys a particularly close relationship with American minimalist Steve Reich, whose 80th birthday was celebrated by the NZSO last year with a performance of his 1986 Three Movements.

"It's been fascinating to get Reich's insight as well as some unexpected comments that take us by surprise. He's very fond of the work that the Colin Currie Group does and that makes us very happy."

Mark-Anthony Turnage, whose new Martland Memorial concerto was premiered by Currie three months ago in London, is among the other composers he has recently worked with.

Written on the death of composer Steve Martland, Currie says it's a beautiful and strong piece; heartfelt with moments of yearning emotion and a very good way to remember Martland.

On Currie's latest tour, we'll hear two concertos by Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan - the well-known Veni Veni Emmanuel from 1992 and a second percussion concerto, commissioned by Currie in 2012.

After years of playing Veni Veni Emmanuel, he asked MacMillan the obvious question, 'What about another one?' When it arrived, it was, in the words of the chuffed soloist, an absolutely cracking piece, very powerful, symphonic and beautiful.

Percussionist Colin Currie joins the NZSO for two concerts as part of its British Festival.
Percussionist Colin Currie joins the NZSO for two concerts as part of its British Festival.

Currie is fascinated by the new sounds in it, drawn from an array of metallic instruments.

"You'll notice the bright sonorities of bells," he says, "instruments that produce rich resonances. And I wanted him to write for marimba in a way that he hadn't previously."

Playing the marimba is a game of accuracy, Currie confesses, likening playing the instrument, a set of wooden bars struck by mallets, to a game of high speed darts.

"You have to hit the target even if you're getting your sound at the end of a mallet," he says.

Eight days after playing MacMillan's Percussion Concerto No 2, Currie plays Veni Veni Emmanuel with the NZSO NYO and he may well be thinking of his recent championing of the struggling European Youth Orchestra or his own formative years playing with Scotland's National Youth Orchestra.

"This is how young musicians can really get the buzz," he stresses.

"There's nothing quite like participating in an orchestra that's playing the highest order of repertoire. It can consume your life."

What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, British Festival
Where & when: Bold worlds, Auckland Town Hall, Friday, July 7; Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, NZSO National Youth Orchestra, Auckland Town Hall, Saturday, July 15.