Press Materials

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Praise

“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

“Vibrant…superb”
-Alex Ross, The New Yorker

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

“The group performed with absolute aplomb”
-Boston Globe

“Marvelous”
-Chicago Tribune

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

“Brilliant”
-Independent (UK)

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

“Hard-grooving”
-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

Album review: Perpetulum

May 31, 2019
by James Manheim

“…breaks new ground in several respects…”

“…delightful…”

“The entire album is absorbing and often fun”

This release from Third Coast Percussion, on Philip Glass‘ Orange Mountain Music label, breaks new ground in several respects, which is no mean feat for its seemingly indestructible, octogenarian principal. The big news is that Glass himself, after all these years, contributes Perpetulum, a piece for percussion ensemble that is apparently his first one ever. This may seem strange for a composer for whom the rhythmic element has always been prominent, but here the relationship between rhythm and tonality is different, and the ensemble seems to draw forth a new kind of humor from Glass. It’s delightful; sample the first movement, and you may well be entranced. The other new development here, is that Glass has reached what might be termed a second generation of influence; the rest of the music on the album, some of it by members of Third Coast Percussion, reflects the work of composers who have taken Glass’ ideas, and developed them in new directions. The standout is David Skidmore‘s Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities, which takes up the first CD, consisting of seven movements with amusing titles. Each one explores a different texture and rhythmic configuration. Gavin Bryars‘ The Other Side of the River, which closes the program, is a minimalist work with large sectional contrasts. Peter Martin and Robert Dillon each contribute a shorter piece, with titles that indicate their structural procedures. The entire album is absorbing and often fun, and never dull. Highly recommended for those interested in minimalism.

Read the original article here.


Album review: Perpetulum

May 31, 2019
by Rick Anderson

“Third Coast Percussion is responsible for some of the most interesting and exciting recordings of the past few years.”

“…a glorious variety of styles and sounds…”

Third Coast Percussion is responsible for some of the most interesting and exciting recordings of the past few years. Those who hear “percussion” and think “drums and woodblocks and gongs” need to understand that TCP’s primary instruments are mallet keyboards and other tuned instruments, which means that most of what you hear when they’re playing is melody and harmony, not just rhythm. And on their latest album, a two-disc collection of works by TCP’s members as well as by Gavin Bryars and Philip Glass (whose Perpetulum was commissioned for the group) you’ll hear a glorious variety of styles and sounds, perhaps the most consistently enjoyable of them being David Skidmore’s Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities.

Read the original article here.


CD review: Third Coast Percussion’s “Perpetulum” showcases percussionists with extraordinary abilities

May 30, 2019
by Olivia Kieffer

“a powerhouse of a recording”

“…virtuosic performances by the ensemble throughout.”

“they certainly do have extraordinary abilities”

 

On March 29, 2019, Chicago-based quartet Third Coast Percussion released their newest album, Perpetulum. This is a powerhouse of a recording, with virtuosic performances by the ensemble throughout. It is certainly a “percussionist’s percussion album,” though anyone with an open ear for never-ending rhythms and percussive timbres can appreciate it. Those who are well-familiar with the standard Western percussion ensemble repertoire may enjoy the secret musical “throwback” gems peppered throughout the record. The title track comes from their much-anticipated Philip Glass commission, which is Glass’s first composition for percussion ensemble.

This 2-disc set includes two works commissioned by the ensemble (“Perpetulum” by Philip Glass and “The Other Side of the River” by Gavin Bryars), and three compositions by members of the ensemble: David Skidmore’s “Aliens With Extraordinary Abilities,” “Ordering-instincts” by Robert Dillon, and Peter Martin’s “BEND.” For an ensemble that has been together for just over a decade, this is a prolifically recorded group;. “Perpetulum” is their ninth original album, and they are featured as performers on a further seven albums.

The entirety of Disc 1 is David Skidmore’s 35-minute, seven-movement electro-acoustic piece “Aliens With Extraordinary Abilities.” If I could encapsulate Skidmore’s piece with one word, it would be “relentless.” A thread that runs throughout the piece is the feeling of motion within stasis, and stasis within motion. This is helped in part with an often-appearing washy electronic landscape in the backing track, with frenetic mallet virtuosity in the foreground.

A full sit-down listen of Skidmore’s “Aliens” will leave one emotionally and mentally wiped out. Its frenetic athleticism goes hand-in-hand with the one thing that can be said about Third Coast: they certainly do have extraordinary abilities.

The best piece on the album is also one of the shortest. Disc 2 opens with Peter Martin’s “BEND” a quartet for two marimbas. Martin makes effective use of anything but hitting the bars with a mallet (though there is plenty of that, too!). He employs dead strokes, the sides and back ends of the mallets struck and rubbed on various parts of the bars, and an extensive middle section where the players bow the bars, which sounds just like electronics. The music plays with resonance, dynamic, and textural transitions in a way that most keyboard percussion does not. The pop/fusion chords that appear and reappear are reminiscent of Daniel Levitan’s “Marimba Quartet” and “Sculpture in Wood” by Rudiger Pawassar.

Martin drew his inspiration for this piece from the player piano compositions of Bruce Goff, an architect and amateur composer. “BEND” is a masterful composition for marimbas – captivating and joyful, with a fresh musical language throughout that surprises and delights.

Second on Disc 2 is Philip Glass’s “Perpetulum,” a quartet in four continuous movements. When I first heard that Third Coast had commissioned Glass to write a percussion quartet, my anticipation was high. When I finally got to hear the recording, it was in my car, on the long drive from Milwaukee to Cleveland. I listened again many times, in different settings over the past month. What caused me to keep returning to the piece was not the sense of euphoria that normally accompanies hearing new music by one of my favorite composers. Instead I was blindsided with both bewilderment and disappointment, not by the performance (which is outstanding!), but by the music itself.

Part 1 starts with a big throwback to early Western percussion ensemble music: not only the instruments used are of that era (sistrum or tambourine, bongos, tom-toms, woodblocks of various sizes, snare drum), but the use of simple rhythmic motifs, played in unison or in pairs. It reminds me of “Canticle No. 1” by Lou Harrison. A sort of Caribbean mallet theme is presented, that reappears in variation throughout the work. Part 2 features a minor-ish melody followed by an extended march for unpitched percussion, which stretches for too long.

Next is the cadenza, which Third Coast members wrote, and is absolutely marvelous! It’s fun, as if 1980’s Philip Glass and David Skidmore got together for lunch, had too many Red Bulls, and decided to start a band. Part 3 is a creative yet lackluster combination of material from the previous movements. The thing is, overall the piece is kind of fun, and Glass, as always, proves himself a master of form. However, it’s a good 10 minutes too long, and could do without the second Part altogether.

In “Ordering-instincts” by Robert Dillon, the four percussionists share wooden planks, crotales, and tom-toms. The planks are used very melodically, but without specific pitches, and the crotales are used in the same way. …  It’s a well-crafted piece of music, with never a boring moment.

Last on the album is Gavin Bryars’ “The Other Side of the River,” a powerful and mesmerizing piece for marimbas, tuned gongs, and woods. It’s very long, clocking in at 21 minutes. … Bryars is a virtuoso of beauty. His music never fails to move the listener, and “The Other Side of the River” is no exception.

Read the full review here.


Album review: Perpetulum

May 22, 2019 (June issue)
by Guy Rickards

“glisteningly impressive”

“This is a hugely enjoyable set, intelligently programmed, brilliantly performed and closely recorded.”

Philip Glass gets top billing here, unsurprisingly I suppose, for — astonishingly — his first work for percussion ensemble, the four-player Perpetulum (2018). Written for Third Coast Percussion, it is a virtuoso and entertaining showpiece in three parts with a brief cadenza prefacing the finale. Its momentum is not really that of a conventional perpetuum mobile, though there are elements of that at times, particularly in the toccata-like second part. Although there are gentler moments as well, Perpetulum’s busy discourse rarely rises to more elevated heights.

If Perpetulum is not the most exciting work here, there are others that fit the bill, not least the concluding work on disc 2, Gavin Bryars’s The Other Side of the River (2016), also written for Third Coast Percussion. It is a glisteningly impressive single-span fantastia for the four players, serene and mesmeric in equal measure. By contrast, David Skidmore’s Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities (2016) — the sole work on the 35-minute first disc — is a seven-movement suite of enormous diversity, ranging across minimalist euphony, modern-jazz like riffs, some discreet electronic manipulation and, in the brief finale, a not dissimilar quietude to Bryars’s. It is the longest and most invigorating work of the five and the most immediate in impact.

It is curious that the booklet accompanying the two discs only discusses Glass’s piece, and makes a mere passing reference to the Bryars. I would have liked to know more of the inspiration behind the pieces by Skidmore, Peter Martin, and Robert Dillon. As they are all members of Third Coast Percussion, is their reticence attributed to misguided modesty? If so, one can but be thankful it did not translate also into the composition and execution of these exciting and nicely diverse pieces. If BEND by Martin and Dillon’s Ordering-instincts, both composed in 2014, are more modest creations, they fit very nicely between the larger compositions. This is a hugely enjoyable set, intelligently programmed, brilliantly performed and closely recorded. What a shame Sean Connors did not pen a companion piece to close the circle!


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.