Aberdeenshire born percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie never fails to impress an audience. To celebrate Glennie's 50th birthday, the BBC Proms Chamber Music series fourth concert was a special concert of four pieces written in the last 20 years. The event also celebrated the 120th anniversary of the first ever Proms concert.

Dame Evelyn Glennie © BBC | Mark Allan
Dame Evelyn Glennie
© BBC | Mark Allan

It's not every concert that you have to wait for the news to finish in order to start, but as presenter Petroc Trelawny explained, the live nature of the concert paved a path for accurate timing. This is perhaps why the programme played a little safe in only setting 50 minutes of music. The explanations between the pieces were informative and gave a good overview of each work, but, as demanding as Glennie's performances must be, it would have been nicer to have squeezed in an extra piece as it did feel as though the hour was padded by talking.

On entering Cadogan Hall, audience members were offered earplugs – a little disconcerting and not entirely necessary. None of the pieces was ear-splittingly loud, but rainbow-haired Royal College of Music student, Betram Wee’s world première of Dithyrambs had quite a distinctly piercing range of dynamics on the Aluphone that weren't overly related to the poem that was quoted by presenter Trelawny. The instrument, developed with the help of Glennie, was made famous by its first appearance at the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. Wee’s piece took an academic approach to composition and used a wide variety of beaters in a series of musical ideas. This idea rather linked all four pieces of the prom and, in particular, the opening of the abstract work by Japanese composer Keiko Abe, Prism Rhapsody. On stage with pianist Philip Smith, Glennie started with punchy chords on the marimba that transformed into flowing melodies. 

The highlight of the performance was Dame Evelyn Glennie's own composition with Philip Sheppard. Composed by the duo in 2011, Orologeria Aureola mixes a backing soundscape with a new instrument called the Halo, played by Glennie and custom made for this piece with pitched dips in an upturned pan specifically placed. The rhythms in the piece were rather more comforting than the other three pieces, with a focus on changing pitches within a repetitive structure. Although the piece didn't change key, it was more engaging as a whole, simply due to it being easier on the ear. Glennie and Sheppard proved that compositions don't have to be dissonant or pointillist to be modern.

Having performed regularly with Glennie for over 25 years, pianist Philip Smith showed an acute understanding of the percussionist's needs and performance desires. Smith premiered Greek composer John Psatha's View from Olympus in 2000 in its original scoring as a double concerto so it was only correct that their new experimental version with orchestra on a backing tape be performed together. View from Olympus could be described as a duel between the two instruments in which the music starts off in a similar fashion to the other pieces in the concert. The atonal groups of ideas slowly develop into a climax of faster paced rhythms and melodies that were positively influenced by traditionalist Greek styles. As an experiment to use just two performers, it worked despite there being some initial timing issues. When the latter, more traditional parts were in full flow, the rhythms became more repetitive and easier to follow, which allowed Smith and Glennie to slot back into the music. The use of backing tape probably worked better for Glennie's own piece. 

As an encore, Glennie surprisingly sat down at the piano and played a duet with Smith, Psatha's Fragments. She sat at the lower end and opened the piece with a rhythmic bass melody. It was very well received by the audience and a great surprise to end the hour.