Press Materials


“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

Sonorous Earth with The Eugene Symphony

We are thrilled to be performing Augusta Read Thomas’s Sonorous Earth with co-commissioner The Eugene Symphony on Thursday, April 19. Thanks to KLCC’s Brian Bull for profiling the concert, and for taking the time to sit down with Augusta Read Thomas to discuss the concerto, her lifelong love of bells, and the process of compiling all 300 pieces of resonant metal that are used in this amazing work. Click here to listen to the interview.

Album Review: Paddle to the Sea

February 14, 2018
by Jarrett Hoffman

“…deep and wide-ranging, impressive and highly creative.”

Third Coast Percussion went bold with their latest project, a sprawling marine ecosystem of an album titled Paddle to the Sea. The name comes from a 1966 film about a wooden toy boat floating its way from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean. After the half-hour film was brought to the group’s attention, they group-composed a new score to it, here receiving its world-premiere recording.

But an ecosystem takes more than just one beautiful story. Third Coast surrounds the title work with the vastly differing colors of three aquatic creatures — water-themed works that inspired the film score’s composition. As a whole, the result from this Grammy-winning quartet out of Chicago is deep and wide-ranging, impressive and highly creative.

The title work, spanning ten tracks, marks the little boat’s journey with a fascinating assortment of sounds and moods. “Open Water” grooves, evoking hip-hop in a dance between mallet and hand percussion. Earthly pressure builds from “The Stewards” into “Niagara,” sending you over the falls. And “Sanctuary” is just that — time stands still, enters into itself. Alongside those highlights are a few less evocative tracks and transitions, probably better-suited to live performance with the film than to CD.

Next up is the five-minute Chigwaya (“the bream fish”), a traditional song used to call water spirits in the Shona religion of Zimbabwe. Third Coast has studied Shona music with their mentor Musekiwa Chingodza — here the group performs their interpretation of his arrangement, which they’ve tailored around the mbira, a thumb piano important to Shona music.

The mbira has a beautiful sound, otherworldly like a celesta, but crisp. The melodic ostinato on those instruments, coupled with snare-like vibrations, sets a mesmerizing foundation. Soon the quartet layer their own voices smoothly on top.

Scattered movements from two other works surround Paddle to the Sea and Chigwaya. Jacob Druckman’s Reflections on the Nature of Water (1986) comes with the more straightforward story as an established part of the solo marimba repertoire. David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and Sean Connors rotate through the six movements, each meant to embody a different character of water: Crystalline, Fleet, Tranquil, Gently Swelling, Profound, and Relentless.

The group’s arrangement of four selections by Philip Glass arrives on a more complicated path. The pieces began their lives on the piano alongside dance in Glass’s 12 Pieces for Ballet. For their own version, Third Coast drew on both the original and on the Brazilian group Uakti’s arrangement, known as Aguas da Amazonia. The percussion quartet kept Uakti’s title and the inspiration of the Amazon River and its tributaries.

The performances are excellent. Skidmore, Dillon, Martin, and Connors capture Druckman’s six water characters and more, ably traversing the virtuosic writing. The group’s arrangements of Glass are entrancing, and along with the Druckman and Chigwaya, come through as subtle yet important connections to the film score.

The interweaving of Druckman and Glass doesn’t capture the same feeling, but framing the album with Glass was a special curatorial feat. Beginning and ending with the lulling Madeira and Amazon Rivers — in these sensitive hands and on this amazing array of instruments — feels truly sea-like, and spiritual.

Album review: Paddle to the Sea

April 3, 2018
by David Hurwitz

“…astonishing precision and sensitivity…”

“…the performances are amazing…the engineering is perfect…”

Today’s percussionists are amazing virtuosos, and the members of Third Coast Percussion play with astonishing precision and sensitivity throughout this intelligently planned recital built around the theme of “water” in many of its forms. There are two major works, the most important of which is Jacob Druckman’s amazing marimba solo “Reflections on the Nature of Water.” Its six movements are broken into pairs and spread throughout the disc. As the idiom is strongly atonal, it makes a refreshing contrast to the mellow harmonic syntax of the remaining pieces.

The other major work is Third Coast Percussion’s original film score Paddle to the Sea. The movements have evocative titles, some presumably taken from the images to which they correspond: “The Lighthouse and the Cabin,” “Open Water,” “Niagara,” “The Locks,” etc. Other bits are simply evocative and more impressionistic: “Flow,” “Thaw,” “Sanctuary,” “Release.” The entire work plays for about thirty-five minutes, and despite the considerable skill that obviously went into its crafting, it doesn’t seem to have much musical substance. It sounds like background, and presumably suits its purpose admirably, but you may well feel differently.

Also interspersed with the other items are four superbly made transcriptions from Philip Glass’s score to Aguas da Amazonia, easy on the ear and magnificently played. The last of them, “Amazon River,” brings the program to a satisfying conclusion. Finally, the players toss in a Zimbabwean song of the Shona people, “Chigwaya,” supposedly used to call water spirits. It’s charming, but also musically ephemeral. It would have been interesting to hear the song used as the basis for something more extended in form.

The bottom line here is that the performances are amazing, the music of variable quality but never gratuitously difficult or off-putting, and the engineering is perfect. You make the call.

100 metronomes can’t be wrong, but Cerrone premiere impresses most in Ligeti program

February 17, 2018
by Lawrence A. Johnson

The penultimate program of the György Ligeti festival in this season’s University of Chicago Presents series took place Friday night at the Logan Center. Yet the most substantive music of the evening, curated by Third Coast Percussion, was a work by a young American composer.

One of Ligeti’s most endearing qualities is his antic sense of humor. The three Ligeti works featured on the first half richly represented the satirical, anti-establishment side of the Hungarian composer, even if none of the music showed Ligeti at his most essential.

The evening began with a rare performance of a work more talked about than presented, Ligeti’s infamous Poème symphonique (1962). Neither symphonic nor poetic, this bit of theater art for 100 metronomes shows Ligeti at his most Cageian.

Sixteen UC students walked out single file–in keeping with the mock-serious ceremony of the work–and seated themselves at the foot of the stage behind the 100 wind-up metronomes. At a lighting cue, all the students quickly–and very deftly–set off their assigned metronomes in something like simultaneity.

One will search for greater musical or historical meaning in vain. The principal conceit is to listen to the undifferentiated din of clackety-clack as it gradually slows down and thins out to nothing. As the sound decelerated over five minutes, the timbres slenderized until there were just a pair of metronomes on either side of the stage slowing down in a contrapuntal pas de deux, then silence.

The even more concise Continuum (1968) followed. Ligeti conceived this miniature for two-manual harpsichord as a four-minute exercise in speed and frantic, ten-fingered virtuosity.

Continuum was presented in an arrangement for two-man marimba. Sean Connors and Peter Martin displayed staggering bravura at an swiftly accelerating tempo while maintaining complete rhythmic clarity. Still, few composers were as precise about specific instrumentation and sonic effects as Ligeti. Exciting as the marimba duo was, the recasting missed the feeling of a solo keyboardist pushed to the breaking point.

Ligeti never composed a percussion quartet, but came closest in Síppal, dobbal, nádihegedüvel (With Pipes, Drums, Fiddles). Scored for mezzo-soprano and four percussionists, the song cycle was one of Ligeti’s final works, completed in 2000.

Here too, there was an equal sense of Dadaist absurdity–not only in the largely nonsense poetry by Ligeti’s compatriot Sándor Weöres, but also the profligate scoring for a bestiary of percussion instruments used sparingly. In his introduction, Skidmore seemed to admit as much, noting good-naturedly that the piece often seems to be “making fun of our profession.”

The seven-song, 14-minute cycle may not be a timeless masterwork but one is unlikely to hear it performed with greater commitment or more fiery advocacy than that delivered by soloist Rachel Calloway and Third Coast Friday night.

The mezzo-soprano’s scary intensity and crystal-clear enunciation were impressive throughout these mostly absurdist settings. Calloway made the most of the scant expressive opportunities as with the folk-like “Alma, Alma” and the ensuing “Keseredes,” sung by Calloway with lovely tone and sensitivity, and backed by vibraphone and a quartet of ocarinas.

Ligeti may have been the marquee name Friday but the most musical substance came after intermission with Goldbeater’s Skin by Christopher Cerrone.

The work was commissioned by Third Coast as a companion piece for Síppal, dobbal, nádihegedüvel, and premiered by them a year ago at Notre Dame. As with Ligeti’s cycle, Cerrone’s work is also cast in seven songs for mezzo and percussion quartet. Here the solo voice alternates with percussion movements, the singer and instrumentalists joining forces in the final two sections.

Cerrone is clearly a gifted composer with an impressive individual voice as was made manifest in this Chicago premiere. One can immediately understand why Third Coast commissioned him.

Read the full review here.

Third Coast Percussion at Cleveland Museum of Art

February 14, 2018
by Nicholas Stevens

Few composers in the classical tradition have successfully transformed stories for children into engrossing all-ages artworks. In a concert at the Cleveland Museum of Art last week, Third Coast Percussion — the Chicago-based quartet of Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and David Skidmore — made a strong case for their new work, Paddle to the Sea.

Third Coast’s concert on Sunday afternoon, February 11 represented a sort of homecoming for the piece, which the Museum helped commission. It was Thomas Welsh, CMA’s Director of Performing Arts, who first suggested that the quartet look at the 1941 children’s book Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling C. Holling and Bill Mason’s 1966 short film based on the book. For their multimedia event, Third Coast alternates performances of pieces by Philip Glass, Jacob Druckman, and the mbira masters of the Shona people with portions of the film, screened along with the quartet’s original music.

The presentation opens with renditions of Glass’s “Madeira,” a movement from the suite Águas da Amazônia (1993-99), and Druckman’s “Crystalline,” from Reflections on the Nature of Water (1986). Glass’s music emerges transfigured from an overhaul by the Brazilian ensemble Uakti in the late 1990s, and Third Coast’s re-scored version sets a tone of warmth and gentle power. Druckman’s marimba solo offers a contrast, and Skidmore thundered away at the instrument’s low end.

Act 1 of Paddle to the Sea follows a carving of a man in a canoe as it begins its journey downriver toward the Great Lakes, when its maker — a First Nations boy in rural Canada — sets it afloat with a message on the bottom: “Please put me back in the water. I am Paddle-to-the-Sea.” The percussionists mostly avoid mimicry of the events in the silenced image track, though their propulsive thwacking adds a note of humor to the scene in which the boy carves the canoe. Making full use of contemporary percussion technique, they pull off such tricky maneuvers as bending the pitch of a vibraphone’s bars while bowing, and coaxing a continuous roar from a bass drum with a rubber ball.

After Glass’s “Amazon” and Druckman’s “Relentless,” the latter of which Connors tackled ably, the group reached the heart of the film. Act 2 is a nonstop succession of high points. Third Coast’s score illuminates this turbulent middle portion, which finds the toy barely missing a ship’s propellers, becoming stuck in ice, being snatched by a desirous child, encountering polluted water, and going over Niagara Falls. Rather than bang out some triumphal theme when Paddle-to-the-Sea passes a city during a fireworks display, Third Coast instead paints the shimmer of the explosions on water in spectral, ringing sounds.

Dillon lent extraordinary narrative shape to Druckman’s “Profound,” and the group allowed Glass’s “Xingu” to groove as a prelude to Act 3. As Paddle-to-the-Sea passes into the ocean, the percussionists revisit a thrumming theme for open water, defined by the hiss of a sizzle cymbal.

Martin navigated eddies of notes in Druckman’s “Fleet” to connect Act 3 with the film’s Coda, which brings renewal to both the carving and its journey. The show ended with a moving group performance of Chigwaya, a traditional Zimbabwean song that was taught to the group by their Shona mbira mentor Musekiwa Chingodza. Singing unamplified over the sparkle and buzz of their thumb pianos, Third Coast reminded listeners that the common humanity and concern for nature embedded in Holling’s story and Mason’s film transcends North American cultures, extending to artists and storytellers across all seas.


Classical New Release: Paddle to the Sea

February 6, 2018
by Amanda Sewell

Grammy-winning ensemble Third Coast Percussion has a new album of water-inspired music called Paddle to the Sea.The centerpiece of the album is the world premiere of “Paddle to the Sea,” an original Third Coast Percussion ensemble composition. The group created the music as a live soundtrack to accompany the 1966 short film that was adapted from a children’s book.

The album also includes water-inspired music by Philip Glass, Jacob Druckman and Musekiwa Chingodza. Click here to view the trailer for this new album.

Album Review: Paddle to the Sea

February 18, 2018
by Lisa Flynn

Third Coast Percussion’s Paddle to the Sea transports listeners into a realm of imaginative sounds and world-premiere recordings evoking the aquatic world. Anchoring the album is the ensemble’s original collaborative composition Paddle to the Sea. The talented foursome conceived it as a live soundtrack to the 1966 film of the same name, based on a classic children’s story. Third Coast found a wellspring of ideas in the other works they’ve included on the album. Jacob Druckman’s Reflections on the Nature of Water revels in textures and timbres unique to the marimba. The ensemble plays its own arrangement of selections from Philip Glass’s 12 Pieces for Ballet — also drawing inspiration from Brazilian group Uakti’s multi-instrumental version, titled Aguas da Amazonia.

Christopher Cerrone presents World Premiere with Third Coast Percussion at Miller Theatre, 3/29

Third Coast Percussion is thrilled to work once again with Pulitzer Prize finalist Christopher Cerrone. We look forward to presenting his Portrait Concert in March at the Miller Theatre at Columbia University.

February 1, 2018
Broadway World Music

Brooklyn-based composer Christopher Cerrone – winner of a 2015 Rome Prize and a 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his opera Invisible Cities – greets 2018 with a pair of important premieres.

A Natural History of Vacant Lots, written for Grammy-winning ensemble Third Coast Percussion, receives its world premiere on Thursday, March 29 (8 pm) in a Cerrone Portrait Concert played by Third Coast at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre. Taking its title from a book on urban ecology, A Natural History of Vacant Lots incorporates electronic sound and spatial/environmental elements: the four players are situated widely throughout the hall, and perform in near-darkness.

Rounding out the Portrait program are Goldbeater’s Skin with mezzo-soprano Rachel Calloway, setting texts by poet G. C. Waldrep, and the evocative suite Memory Palace, recently recorded by the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet on Sono Luminus. Third Coast and Calloway will also perform Goldbeater’s Skin at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center on February 16 at 7:30 pm.

Click here to read more about Cerrone, his inspirations for A Natural History of Vacant Lots, and his other forthcoming premieres.