It could be argued that up until recently the drum in western music has been relegated to a supporting role. There's no doubting that very few bands claim to be complete without a drummer, or in the electronic age a drum machine, but Kodo brought to the Symphony Hall a taste of the depth of history behind Japanese Taiko drumming.
|The big bang|
For many younger western audiences, anime such as Akira provided hints of Taiko at a time when drum and bass was beginning to emerge as a distinct flavour of dance music. These influences, with the emphasis on percussion, can broaden interest in this alternative to classical music, rooted in a culture that's alien – but at the same time more and more relevant to a changing world.
Kodo themselves are a worldwide phenomenon. Based rather enigmatically on an island off Japan they follow a punishing touring schedule which thankfully brings them to the UK on a regular basis and the Symphony Hall is the perfect location to host their mix of drumming, other Japanese instruments and vocal performance.
Putting aside the extras, Kodo is about the drums, the percussion, hearing and more importantly feeling the sound through your whole body. The building shakes when then the big taiko drum is pounded, contrasting with the more subtle strings and flute.
There were plenty of spare seats in the Symphony Hall, which in no way reflects the quality of the performers or the performance; but nearly all were mesmerised by the sounds coming from the stage.
|Three pronged attack|
The Kodo company played their way through quiet, reflective pieces with a obvious sense of humour and the BIG drum pieces which shook the foundations of the building and the audience to the core.
The look on the performers face was often that of strained concentration – going from one beat to the next and throwing their entire bodyweight behind each swing of the baton.
The performance itself would be hard to fault and the company moved almost flawlessly from piece to piece with a complete lack of pretension. The musicians themselves quietly and efficiently acted as stagehands – moving drums and instruments around the stage one moment, then picking up the sticks and playing the next.
It is hard to fault the evening as entertainment – from the first slow, ponderous strike of the drum the audience are carried on a wave of raw sound that somewhat obfuscates its depth and intelligence. Indeed there are probably two ways to e enjoy Kodo's music – first as primeval percussion where the "feeling" is more than the "listening" or alternatively as detailed subtle composition that hides underneath the atavistic drum sounds.
Judging the audience for this kind of event is always tough, but there seemed to be a pretty eclectic mix of young and old, sweatshirts and shirts and ties. As superficial generalisations go, there seemed to be a more varied audience than some of the traditional classical events – which can only be good to widen the group that has experienced what an excellent venue this is.
|The full ensemble|
Hopefully it won't be long before Kodo return and it's impossible not to recommend them to an open-minded audience. If you're into drums, normal classical music or any part of Japanese culture – look them up. You're unlikely to be disappointed.