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“They play as if they’re a single, eight-armed organism”
-NPR Music

“Virtuosity and deft, precisely timed wit”
-Washington Post

“Commandingly elegant”
-New York Times

-Alex Ross, The New Yorker

“An inspirational sense of fun and curiosity”
-Minnesota Star-Tribune

“The group performed with absolute aplomb”
-Boston Globe

-Chicago Tribune

“Mysterious, funny, endlessly inventive”
-Boston Classical Review

-Independent (UK)

“Technical precision, palpable groove and outstanding sound”
-Time Out New York 

-New York Times

“Savvy and hyper-talented young percussionists”
-Musical Toronto

“Fluency and zest”
-Andrew Clements, the Guardian (UK)

“Undeniably groovy…masterfully performed”
-Time Out Chicago

“One of the country’s finest new music ensembles”
-Chicago Reader

“The musicality and fierce focus of Third Coast Percussion electrified the room.”
-Sarasota Herald-Tribune 

Reviews and Features

Review: Third Coast Percussion and the Civic Orchestra Premiered new Concerto Sunday Night

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.

Click here to continue reading.

Concert review: Cerrone’s “Meander, Spiral, Explode” with the Civic Orchestra

May 14, 2019
by Howard Reich

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s recently ended seven-week strike meant that the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, too, fell silent during that time.

Sunday evening’s performance in Orchestra Hall brought the young musicians back into the spotlight, and they seized it, opening with the world premiere of Christopher Cerrone’s “Meander, Spiral, Explode” for percussion quartet and orchestra.
Third Coast Percussion collaborated animatedly with the orchestra in the gripping work, its three movements unfolding without pause. Though subtlety was not this composition’s strong point, there was no resisting Third Coast Percussion’s telegraphic opening statements, which pulsed over a relentless orchestral crescendo. The hypnotic incantations of the second movement eventually gave way to a propulsive finale, Third Coast Percussion’s speed demons giving listeners a great deal to marvel at.

The program, sensitively conducted by Ken-David Masur, also included a solid performance of Debussy’s technically challenging “La Mer” and an emotionally open, youthful account of Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 (“Spring”).

Read the full review (including two other concerts) here.

Concert Review: Composer Portrait Frames Little As Social Interlocutor

April 23, 2019
by Xenia Hanusiak

This season, the Miller Theatre’s signature Composer Portraits series celebrates its 20th iteration. This vital and well-patronized series showcases the musical influencers of our time – composers and performers who are moving the needle of contemporary composition with assured and individual voices. The reputations of the featured artist are well validated.

In the current season, the six composers have earned prestige awards ranging from the Pulitzer Prize to the MacArthur Fellowship: soprano/composer Kate Soper, performance artist/composer Du Yun, drummer/composer Tyshawn SoreyWang LuJohn Zorn, and David T. Little. The supporting musicians are integral, and for this season executive director Melissa Smey has snared the marquee names of contemporary musicInternational Contemporary EnsembleYarn/WireJACK QuartetAmerican Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME), and Third Coast Percussion. The synergy between composer and performers is essential to the enterprise.

The portrait experience is multi-layered. Each presentation features the composer as curator and spokesperson (an onstage conversation is part of the concert experience). Lara Pellegrinelli’s program notes provide another indispensable contribution.

The programs generally focus on small-scale and chamber music repertoire. For the final concert of this season on April 18, the American composer David T. Little, most known for his operatic works JFK, Dog Days, and Vinkensport, chose two chamber works that demonstrated his acuity for theatricality. Onstage, the 40-year old Little spoke about his reputation as a political composer. He said he does not see himself as a propagandist but views his role as an interlocutor who leverages his music either to ask questions or to document historical incidents.

Little’s Socratic approach was realized in the first work of the evening: Haunt of Last Nightfall for percussion quartet and electronics. Described as a ghost play in two acts, the nine-movement through-composed work was commissioned in 2010 by the extraordinary Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion. The piece considers America’s role in the 1981 massacre in El Mozote. Little composed the quartet at the same time as his post-apocalyptic opera Dog Days. The similarities between the percussion quartet and the opera are most evident in the electronic soundscape of grunge, distorted electric guitar bass lines, and an insistent pulse as a watch-keeper.

Haunt of Last Nightfall is a landmark work that deserves as much airplay as his publisher can muster. Little’s background as a drummer tells in his masterful writing for percussion. He organizes his orchestration via tuned and untuned instruments. He elicits shimmering, heavenly textures with his juxtapositions of crotales, glockenspiel, and vibraphone lines and creates foreboding and danger with the full gamut of drums tuned to offer a harmonic consensus. Without text, Little offers the listener a narrative journey much in the vein of a silent-film score. Our attention never falters. Little’s agility across the range of percussion instruments is evident in his color-driven soundscapes. We are compelled to imagine the mass slaughter of the Salvatorian people and reflect on the questions that Little offers in program notes.

The success of this performance owed everything to the blistering virtuosity of the members of Third Coast Percussion. Their playing was distinguished in its unanimity, pinpoint accuracy, and collective ability to make percussion instruments sing. One hopes for a second collaboration between Little and the quartet. The combination is indefatigable.

Click here to read the full concert review.



Review: A Composer’s Redacted Music and Raucous Noise

April 19, 2019
by Zachary Woolfe

Redaction was on my mind on Thursday, as the Mueller report was released to the public with swaths of its text blacked out for legal and security reasons.

I didn’t think I’d encounter the same thing at the concert hall that evening. But near the end of the score for “AGENCY” — David T. Little’s raucous, passionate 2013 work for amplified string quartet and electronics, which was given its New York premiere at the Miller Theater at Columbia University — some of the notes are obscured by those distinctive blunt, dark rectangles.

A musical score takes on the trappings — and with them, the aura of obfuscation and unknowability — of a classified government document. Which makes sense given the subject of “AGENCY”: the proximity of Pine Gap, a defense intelligence facility in Australia, to Uluru, an indigenous holy site also known as Ayers Rock.

Each roughly half an hour, “AGENCY” and “Haunt of Last Nightfall” (2010), the two halves of a Composer Portrait devoted to Mr. Little, 40, at Miller on Thursday, were written around the same time as “Dog Days,” and you can hear the resemblance.

In all three works, episodes of crushing sonic violence coexist with oases of serene lyrical beauty for an overall sense of smoldering, luxuriant noise — a plangent yet gorgeous howl. All three are theatrical events, divided into acts. Unlike “Dog Days,” though, “Haunt” (which Mr. Little calls a “ghost play” for percussion quartet and electronics) and “AGENCY” lack plot, character, even text.

These purely instrumental works — “studies for operas,” Mr. Little suggested in an onstage interview — nevertheless tell stories. Your experience of them improves with reading the program notes and learning something about what inspired them, but you wouldn’t be bereft, or immune to their emotional impact, if you flew blind.

“Haunt” is a kind of requiem, a memorial for the 1981 massacre of civilians in the Salvadoran town of El Mozote by an American-backed government militia. Conveyed with relentless focus and energy by the members of Third Coast Percussion, its drama arises from the tension between the sounds we can see being produced live and those that appear from the shadows.

There is beauty here — a dawn trio of high bells; twinkling, milky mystical shimmers — but night inevitably engulfs day. Eventually wails and pummeling drums; thwacks stark as bullets; and buzzing, bawling electric guitar overwhelm the shining ecstatic wonder, the wordless hymns. The backing track begins with the sound of breathing; it, and the piece, ends with rustling and faint explosions.

“AGENCY” milks the sultriness of amplified strings — here the American Contemporary Music Ensemble — against an electronic backdrop that is, as in “Haunt,” ominously droning and dark. There’s text here — at one point luminous plucks punctuate the low buzz of voices speaking, perhaps over radios — but it’s muffled to the point of unintelligibility.

Mr. Little produced some of the work’s rhythms and pitches through elaborate ciphers and translation strategies: a kind of serious game of which the listener is more or less unaware. The question arises: What don’t we know we don’t know? After all, this is a text whose redactions we can’t even see. We hear them, as Mr. Little indicates in the score, only as scrapes of the bow, drops of water in the midst of a flood. The secret, whatever it is, is still safe from us.

Read the full review here.

Album Review: Perpetulum

April 25, 2019
by InfoDad Team

Minimalist music would be more readily dismissible if it did not occasionally stop taking itself so seriously. But give credit to Philip Glass, a master of the form: although much of what he has created sounds like New Age-y background music (which is readily dismissible), Glass often proffers a glimmer, or more than a glimmer, of amusement and cleverness that sets his work apart from similar material by other composers. Such is the case with Perpetulum, Glass’ first-ever work for percussion ensemble – and one whose portmanteau title (“perpetual” plus “pendulum”) gives a pleasant hint of its structure and approach, and of the fact that it is quite an enjoyable piece that does not include any deep emotional or intellectual material or expect major analysis from the audience.

Third Coast Percussion, which commissioned Perpetulum, is an avant-garde group that also does not take itself too seriously (at least not all the time), and the pairing of these percussionists with this music is exceptionally apt. Perpetulum is in three movements plus an extended and very interesting three-minute cadenza; the work as a whole runs about 22 minutes and, like much of Glass’ music and minimalist music in general, is hard to pay attention to for its entirety, since its endless swells, arpeggios and repetitive themes (and non-themes) quickly blend into each other. But the character of percussion, especially keyboards such as marimba and xylophone contrasted with drums and similar instruments, is such that the sound itself provides variety in Perpetulum in a way that keeps the work interesting – which it would not be to nearly the same extent if played by, say, a string quartet.

Orange Mountain Music, Glass’ own label, offers Perpetulum as part of a fascinating (if rather uneven) two-CD collection of percussion works, most of the rest of which were created by Third Coast Percussion members themselves. The only work by an “outsider,” Gavin Bryars’ The Other Side of the River, is the least-interesting piece here, going on as long as Perpetulum but lacking the cleverness and variability-within-sameness that make the Glass opus intriguing. The longest work on this release, though, is neither by Glass nor by Bryars but by David Skidmore. Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities runs 35 minutes and takes up the whole of the first disc in a series of seven sketches with such intriguing titles as “Torched and Wrecked,” “Don’t Eat Your Young,” and “Things May Be Changing (But Probably Not).” The use of titles of this sort is typical in contemporary music and often takes the place of genuine cleverness in the music itself; but not here. These are pieces that take Third Coast Percussion through many paces and many pacings, showcasing the instrumental complement in a wide variety of sound mixtures, tempos and rhythms. It is as interesting in its way as Perpetulum is in Glass’ way.

Two shorter works fill out the recording nicely, and both show how members of Third Coast Percussion take their music-making seriously but do not seem to take themselves seriously all the time: Peter Martin’s BEND is relentlessly bouncy and upbeat, while Robert Dillon’s Ordering-instincts has a kind of witty insistency about it that comes through very well. Listening to this entire release straight through may not be the best idea – an hour and a half of percussion ensemble is a bit much – but by and large, the individual pieces are worth hearing on their own and worth returning to repeatedly.

Read the full article here.

In Review: David T. Little Composer Portrait

April 18, 2019
by Olivia Giovetti

In physics, when an object vibrates at a high enough speed it appears to be still to the naked eye. The range of movement becomes so infinitesimal that it’s imperceptible. Sound, an act of vibration unto itself, is performed across a range of movement that we’re able to perceive through hearing. Accelerate the speed of sonic vibration high enough and you’re left with silence – or, perhaps more accurately, you’re left with an unknowable sound.

Rounding out the Composer Portraits series at Miller Theatre on April 18, an evening of music by David T. Little fought for the unknowable with a ferociousness that has come to characterize Little’s visceral, voracious works. A kinetic mind, Little has an appetite that stretches not just across the breadth of ideas, but also across each idea’s own universe of vantage points. (Per the Miller Theatre’s program notes for the evening, he references The Hill, CNN, and even Breitbart to comprehend news events through their disparate takes.) His work becomes a scientific experiment beyond knowing the unknowable; it’s an epistemological quest to know the nature of knowledge itself.

Of course, as philosopher and activist Simone Weil notes in her Reflections on Quantum Theory, “Science is voiceless; it is the scientists who talk. And what they say is certainly not independent of time.”

Likewise, Little’s Composer Portrait was not independent of time, delivering a program that paired two works – 2010’s Haunt of Last Nightfall and 2013’s AGENCY – on the same day that the Mueller Report was released to the public in redacted form. Two works rooted in questions of knowledge and the unknowable suddenly gained an added resonance, although Little, while regarded as a politically active composer, downplayed the synchronicity.

Take, for instance, Haunt of Last Nightfall, subtitled “a ghost play in two acts.” Written for and reprised last week by Third Coast Percussion, the work is as theatrical as the operas for which Little is best known, including the contemporaneously written Dog Days. In their own ways, both works deal with apocalyptic atrocities. As an adult, Little learned of the 1981 massacre at El Mozote, El Salvador, in which 900 villagers were murdered by U.S. military-trained and armed Salvadoran government forces. That this event had taken place in his lifetime (albeit when he was three years old), yet he only found out about it decades later, became Little’s personal ghost. (Coincidentally, the event was referenced by Ilhan Omar earlier this year.)

“First, how did I never know that this had happened? (The answer to this is fascinating and upsetting.),” Little writes in his composer’s note for the piece. “And second, why am I completely unable to get it out of my mind; to move on?… What we know shapes us, and whether I like it or not, I now know this.”

Even without knowing the historical details that motivate the work, it’s possible to understand the arc of catharsis it traces—and to layer one’s own experience onto the work’s interpretation. … It’s this level of nuance that makes Haunt of Last Nightfall so compelling as an invitation to contemplation versus confrontation. There’s the violence of electric guitar drones (pre-recorded by Andrew McKenna Lee) cutting through marimbas and chimes. But there are also meditative moments, threaded with an embroiderer’s skill throughout the din of battery drums: Samuel Barber’s Medea by way of Beyonce’s Homecoming. Throughout all of it, Third Coast Percussion brings out the choreographic element of percussion work, each member performing in their sequestered station, but in a physical relationship to the others that transcended chamber music and became an act of gripping theater.

AGENCY, originally written for the Kronos Quartet and heard here in its New York premiere with members of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, occupies a similar dimension in time and space. The question Little wrestles with here, however, isn’t around unknowing what we know already. Rather, prompted by Kronos violinist David Harrington, Little tries to know the unknowable—in Harrington’s words, “to spy on the CIA.”

References abound, either deliberate – Little encoded a number of Easter eggs into pitch sets that then were incorporated into the backing electronic track, decipherable only through auditory manipulations – or atmospheric – moments of the work range in resonance from Tchaikovsky to Von Trier. Towards the end of the performance, Third Coast’s members returned to the stage, augmenting a codified cacophony that called to mind both war drums and a heartbeat.

Both Haunt of Last Nightfall and AGENCY end with a final ecstatic release into silence when the performers lower their arms. While AGENCY doesn’t allude to an act of violence, its repetition of this ending structure recalls Last Nightfall and the insidious operations in which organizations like the CIA engage, to devastating effect. In the moment, I found myself thinking of the increasingly perfunctory moments of silence that accompany such tragedies.

In posing these works as questions rather than condemnations, Little also offers a double-edged hope. Our unknowable potential as a human race may see us repeating previous atrocities and acts of colonialism. Or, we could be interdependent of time, honoring history’s ghosts and allowing our knowledge of them to shape us. As Ophelia says in Hamlet, “Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

That, too, is a ghost play.

Read the full review here.

Elkhart STEM+Music students to perform with Third Coast Percussion

We are so proud and honored to be part of this fantastic program, in collaboration the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Civic Innovation, DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, College of Engineering, and most especially, Jay Brockman. Thank you for the amazing work you are doing, and thank you for making us part of it!

We’ll be performing on Friday, May 3, with students from two South Bend area schools, and we’d love to see you there! Read about the program, the amazing students and teachers, and the work we’ve been doing together, below.

April 30, 2019
by Erin Blasko

With help from the University of Notre Dame, students at Roosevelt STEAM Academy and Pierre Moran Middle School spent several months this semester building instruments and composing music as part of STEM+Music, an educational program of the Center for Civic Innovation (CCI) and DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at Notre Dame.

Working from kits developed by South Bend Woodworks, the Elkhart Community Schools students used math, science and engineering to design and build whistles, chimes and wooden drums, then composed original music for the instruments alongside Jay Brockman, director of CCI; Juan-Carlos Alarcon, music education student at Indiana University South Bend and former Pierre Moran student; and Wendy Daly of The Music Village in South Bend.

On Friday (May 3), the students — 11 from Roosevelt and 25 from Pierre Moran — will channel that work into a special performance at Pierre Moran with Third Coast Percussion, a Grammy Award-winning quartet of classically trained percussionists from Chicago.

Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. and the performance will begin at 6 p.m. A reception will follow and include posters and other displays with further information about the program.

For the performance itself, the students will contribute a series of recurring musical phrases, or motives, to an original composition by Third Coast, which recently concluded a five-year residency with the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center based around music-making and community outreach.

“People often think of artists and musicians as being very different from engineers and scientists, but in reality they have a lot in common in the ways that they solve problems,” said Brockman. “Students in this program get to experience how creativity, experimentation and analysis apply to both the STEM fields and the arts.”

Established in 2013, STEM+Music began as an opportunity for local elementary school students to visit Notre Dame and learn about sound waves and musical instruments while playing with Third Coast on custom instruments designed by the ensemble in collaboration with students and faculty from the College of Engineering.

From there, it expanded to include Common Denominators, a program for third- and fourth-grade students at Roosevelt, as well as eighth-grade students at Pierre Moran, that emphasizes the use of fractions in composing rhythms. The program also was used at Madison STEAM Academy in South Bend this year.

In designing the chimes and whistles with materials and tools including aluminum and PVC tubing and a 3D printer, the Pierre Moran students also explore proportional relationships, graphing and linear equations, all key components of the grade eight math standards in Indiana.

Funding for the Common Denominator program comes in the form of a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant for before- and after-school programming at both Roosevelt and Pierre Moran, as well as a School Improvement Grant for Pierre Moran alone, both from the Indiana Department of Education.

This is the third year for the program after an initial pilot year.

“The objective is to enhance (students’) math skills,” Tonda Hines, 21st Century Program manager for Elkhart Community Schools, said of the program.

At the same time, Hines said, evidence suggests the program may be having a positive effect on reading scores as well, in addition to fostering positive relations among students and between students and teachers.

The Pierre Moran students got a glimpse of Third Coast during the ensemble’s performance with the composer Philip Glass at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center in March, Brockman said, and had a chance to rehearse with them at their school before the concert.

“I loved rehearsing with Third Coast Percussion,” said Emily Garcia Reyes, a student at Pierre Moran.  “Also, learning the pentatonic scale and how to calculate frequencies helped me with my math classes.”  

Ana Hernandez Botello said that she likes the class a lot, and that she gets to “let out some energy during the day.”

And while many of the Roosevelt students are too young to fully appreciate the opportunity, Hines said, “They know it’s important and are valuing the experience.”

“I think for them, personally, it’s an experience they’ll look back on” fondly, she said.

Brockman, for his part, hopes to share that experience with as many students as possible.

To that end, he currently is working with South Bend Woodworks to standardize the Common Denominator program and replicate it nationwide with support from a National Science Foundation grant.

“Two years from now,” he said, “I would love to see 100 schools doing this.”

See the original article here.


The New Yorker: Goings On About Town

April 11, 2019
Steve Smith

Composer Portrait: David T. Little

Widely admired as an opera composer, David T. Little applies his potent theatrical instincts to his instrumental works. This Miller Theatre “Composer Portrait” features two of his most provocative pieces. “Haunt of Last Nightfall,” inspired by a 1981 military massacre in El Salvador, is performed by Third Coast Percussion, the Chicago quartet that commissioned it. The American Contemporary Music Ensemble handles “AGENCY,” a string quartet encoded with subliminal references to global intelligence organizations and Australian Aboriginal lore.

See the full classical music listing here.

7 Classical Music Concerts to See in NYC This Weekend

April 11, 2019
by David Allen

Composer Portrait: David T. Little

David T. Little at Miller Theater (April 18, 8 p.m.). Little is perhaps best and deservedly known for his operas, including “Dog Days” and “JFK,” so this composer portrait is a welcome opportunity to hear some of his instrumental music. Not that the music to be played here sets aside the political approach that he has taken in so much of his work. “Haunt of Last Nightfall,” for percussion quartet and electronics, takes its story from the 1981 El Mozote massacre in El Salvador by soldiers trained by the United States military; “AGENCY,” for string quartet and electronics, is a work about secrecy, itself written using ciphers. Third Coast Percussion and the American Contemporary Music Ensemble are on hand to perform. 

See the full listing here.

Third Coast Percussion Lays Down a Virtuosic Set at Samueli

April 9, 2019
by Timothy Mangan

“The virtuosity on display is a wonder to see and hear.”

“…opens up new vistas of sound…”

“…invariably aimed at getting us closer to the music itself.”

“…one of the most entertaining and energetic concerts this listener has heard…”

Perhaps a concert of music for percussion was a tough sell. Or maybe it was that the percussionists in question were appearing on the Segerstrom Center’s solid gold Chamber Music series, normally devoted to music by people with names like Mozart, Brahms and Schubert. Maybe word hadn’t gotten out. For whatever reason, there were plenty of empty seats Friday night in Samueli Theater when Third Coast Percussion gave one of the most entertaining and energetic concerts this listener has heard in quite awhile.

Make no mistake, the Chicago-based quartet — Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and David Skidmore, who all met when studying at Northwestern — are no Blue Man Group. Grammy winners, they haven’t sold out. But they do put on a show, though with proper lighting, some of it moody, and camera work and friendly chat between numbers, that show is invariably aimed at getting us closer to the music itself. And one of the joys of this music is seeing it performed, all whirling sticks and mallets and impossible coordination.

The music for percussion ensemble in the classical tradition is a relatively new phenomenon, dating back to 1931, with Edgar Varèse’s “Ionisation.” A considerable repertoire has developed since, and Third Coast is adding to it. Friday’s program featured several pieces commissioned by the group, including a new work by Philip Glass, as well as music composed by group members. All the composers on the agenda were living.

This music has more variety than one might initially think. Friday’s program didn’t wear thin. That’s partly because a percussion quartet is not made up of four instruments but four musicians who play a potentially infinite number of instruments, including in this case pocket combs and automobile brake drums. There was a veritable arsenal onstage here. The composers seemed to relish these infinite possibilities, and each went off in their own direction.

Some of them unexpected. Augusta Read Thomas’s “Resounding Earth” (of which the quartet performed the second movement, “Prayer”) is scored for different types of bells, including small prayer bowls, variously sized and tuned, which resound beautifully when hit and glow warmly when a mallet is rolled around its outside, as when a finger rubs the rim of a wine glass. Thomas used these possibilities to create a meditative work that seemed to float weightlessly in the air, the reverberations from the bells coming together as chords in the distance.

Glass’s new work, “Perpetulum,” was co-commissioned for the group by Center patrons Elizabeth and Justus Schlichting. You wouldn’t mistake it for the work of any other composer, but Glass, in his first piece for percussion ensemble, has gone to town. In three substantial movements and lasting some 22 minutes, “Perpetulum” uses a large array of instruments, including tuned (vibraphone, marimba, xylophone) and non-tuned percussion, but he uses them advisedly, giving the sections of the piece each its own distinctive sound palette. He sets his grooves going (sometimes without pitch) and seasons them with distinctive chord progressions and ebullient polyrhythms. “Perpetulum” is a teeming and joyous ride.

Among the many other works performed — not a weak effort in the bunch — Mark Applebaum’s  “Aphasia” must be singled out. It consists of a taped track of vocal samples transformed into all manner of sounds and “a series of specifically prescribed physical gestures to be performed live,” which the quartet did, silently, in unison, bizarrely, intricately and amusingly, right before our eyes. A gimmick perhaps, but a fascinating one.

Also on the program — many of them featured on the group’s new album and tinged by a minimalistic sensibility to harmony and rhythm — were “Niagara” from “Paddle to the Sea,” a composition by the group; Martin’s “BEND”; Gemma Peacocke’s “Death Wish”; Devonté Hynes’s “Perfectly Voiceless”; Dillon’s “Ordering-instincts”; and Skidmore’s blistering “Torched and Wrecked,” which wound up the program thrillingly. A selection from Danny Clay’s “Playbook,” using four plastic pocket combs, the tines gently stroked, and a tiny music box, served as a cute encore.

These players don’t kid around. The virtuosity on display is a wonder to see and hear.  The music is no mere novelty, but opens up new vistas of sound. Third Coast Percussion is scheduled to repeat this program on April 13 up at Cal Tech. I’m betting it’s worth the drive.

See the original article here.