May 14, 2019
by Louis Harris
The front of the stage at Symphony Center was cluttered with marimbas, vibraphones, wood slabs, cymbals, crotales, and other gear as Chicago’s Third Coast Percussion opened the Civic Orchestra of Chicago’s concert Sunday night with the world premiere of Meander, Spiral, and Explode by Christopher Cerrone. It was the start of an excellent concert by the training orchestra that backs up the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. If one were to judge an orchestra based on the younger players waiting in the wings, the CSO is obviously top notch. Under the baton of Ken-David Masur, the Civic, as it usually does, delivered a delightful program on Sunday night and displayed a level proficiency worthy of the big leagues.
Naturally, given the stage set-up demands, the Grammy-Award winning quartet Third Coast Percussion went first. They were backed up by a smaller, 50-piece Civic ensemble that included a piano and a two-person percussion section, which made regular contributions. Christopher Cerrone based Meander, Spiral, and Explode on a book of the same title by Jane Allison. Over the past few years, TCP has premiered several works by Cerrone, who dedicated this new piece to them.
The work’s three movements correspond to the three words in the title. After TCP’s opening outburst on wood slats, Meander starts very quietly on the lower strings and picks up speed as is wanders through the orchestra. Throughout this and the other movements, the strings and winds sound a drone that shifts in volume and tempo, while TCP’s four members switch between wood slats, marimbas, vibraphones, cymbals, bells, and other objects played with mallets and bows. In Spiral, a rising tune emerges on the vibraphones, marimbas, and piano, while the whole thing speeds up. Explode explodes onto the scene with wood blocks and other sounds. During this movement, the violins expand the drone to two notes, as tempo shifts. The work ends abruptly, just as it began. All in all, Meander, Spiral, and Explode was had a wonderful effect and impact. It created an aural fabric that was both interesting and vivid.