Dynamic Duo

by Keith Clarke

How many percussionists does it take to fill a concert hall? Just two, apparently. I am on retreat in South Wales, where on Tuesday the annual Tenby Arts Festival served up O Duo, aka Owen Gunnell and Oliver Cox, two young musicians who met at music college and put together an act that has kept them on the road for the best part of ten years.

You can expect things to go with a bang when you have two percussionists on the programme, and Gunnell and Cox certainly have what it takes when it comes to thwacking things and whipping up a storm. But the notable thing for me is the sheer delicacy of their playing. They center their act round two giant marimbas, although an extensive kitchen fills the rest of the stage. And while there is much beautifully choreographed fun and games, it is less expected to hear a serene Sarabande from a Bach keyboard Partita coming out of two massive instruments with such subtlety.

Aside from the sheer musicality bouncing off these two players, they offer an object lesson in how to take control of your destiny on exiting music college. The conservatoires are churning out talented musicians on endless conveyor belts, but the jobs market cannot hope to keep up. It takes a bit of ingenuity to create work and stay in it, so let’s have a drum roll and a crash on the cymbals to celebrate the wonder of O Duo. You can catch some their work here.


The row over the suspension of four London Philharmonic players rumbles on. The four added their names to a letter protesting the inclusion of the Israel Philharmonic in the Proms programme, adding weight to their signatures, perhaps, by identifying themselves as LPO players. This did not play well with many of the orchestra’s supporters, who are more LPO than PLO, and made their feelings known to orchestra chief Tim Walker.

His response – a nine-month ban for the four – seems harsh. In Tuesday’s Guardian, chief arts writer Charlotte Higgins opined: “The whole London Philharmonic affair has made the orchestra look unbelievably, well, stupid.” Maybe, maybe not. There will be many orchestra CEOs who sympathize. Walker, who has only recently emerged from a damaging episode when the orchestra was defrauded by its financial director, has an orchestra to run, against a backdrop of diminishing support and a general downturn. Cheesing off his funders would not be the greatest way of protecting the orchestra.

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