Saturday night, The Grainger Elastic Band, with members of the Royal Artillery Orchestra and The Fitzwilliam String Quartet, and conducted by Roger Montgomery, put on an all-Percy Grainger concert at King's Place.

Titled ‘East Meets West: An Extravaganza,’ particular attention was paid to Grainger's international influences, performing Grainger’s interpretations of Chinese, Javanese, Indian and Mexican music. In his music, Grainger effectively employed the pentatonic scale to create a distinctly Chinese ambiance and experimented with percussive instruments to replicate a Javanese Gamelan. Challenging to say the least, the orchestra performed expertly, capturing the various cultural images Grainger aimed to portray. In particular, the first violinist displayed exquisite technique and the orchestra transitioned seamlessly between a range of musical moods throughout the concert.

After the interval, performances of Grainger's piano works shifted away from imperial connotations to reveal the true virtuosity and musicality inherent in both Grainger’s music and the performers on stage. With two grand pianos on stage, several pieces were performed, requiring anywhere from 4 to 12 hands! Complicated and unique—two of which required the pianist to play the inside of the piano with a pair of mallets—each piano piece created a distinct visual image for the audience. In particular, Grainger's Spoon River perfectly articulated the contrasting emotions of an American pioneer; the disparity between jovial rhythms and sombre chromaticism not only echoed the tune of an American folk song, but as the program aptly notes, it also captured the ‘pioneer blend of lonesome wistfulness and sturdy persistence’ (Ould 2011).

The sheer number of pieces performed Saturday night merely hinted at the combined talent of The Grainger Elastic Band, the Royal Artillery Orchestra, The Fitzwilliam String Quartet and the many soloists. Saturday’s performance offered up a rare glimpse at an often overlooked, yet dynamic contemporary composer.