The Calling is the fourth in a series of five large-scale concerts, each featuring a different ensemble, being performed at fortyfivedownstairs by multi-instrumentalist and composer Adam Simmons throughout 2017–18. The overarching title of the series, ‘The Usefulness of Art’, is inspired by a quote from sculptor Auguste Rodin: ‘I call useful all that gives happiness.’ In an age when the funding of the arts is always an open question, Simmons’s project is a rallying cry for the importance of art in our lives.
The Calling, which received its world première on opening night, is a seventy-minute composition comprising four major sections, bridged by five briefer connecting passages. It is clearly a deeply personal work for Simmons, exploring his Sri Lankan heritage through his mother’s ancestry. Having travelled there for the first time in 2016, he spoke, during a brief introduction, of having been overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the culture, the landscape, food, rhythms and people.
The piece began with a lengthy introduction by Afro Lankan Drumming system, a duo made up of Ray Pereira and Kanchana Karunaratna, performing on a variety of traditional African and Sri Lankan percussion instruments. It took the form of an extended conversation, by way of call and response, as the two percussionists laid down complex rhythmic patterns, diverging and merging at will. The duo was then joined by prominent jazz drummers Niko Schauble and Hugh Harvey, who both entered the stage area striking gongs and cymbals, before taking seats at their drum kit and adding their own voices to the growing percussive chorus. Next came a line of figures, emerging from darkness, made up of three saxophonists and three brass players, who circled the stage before taking their seats, all the while wailing in unison and building the music to a frenetic, chaotic free-for-all.