Press Materials

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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

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.

TCP to visit Cleveland Museum of Art with original score to Paddle to the Sea

February 6, 2018
by Jarrett Hoffman

Ensemble member Rob Dillon was recently interviewed by Cleveland Classical leading up to Third Coast’s performance on February 11 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, one of the co-commissioners of our latest collaborative work, Paddle to the Sea. Read the interview below to learn more about TCP’s collaborative composition process, how that manifested in Paddle to the Sea, and the personal and artistic significance this project holds for TCP.

A Native Canadian boy in the Nipigon country of Ontario dreams of a journey he knows he can’t make. But a figure carved out of cedar, with a strip of lead to keep it upright in the water, and a message inscribed on the bottom to please return it to the water? That might just make it all the way through the Great Lakes, down Niagara Falls, past Quebec City, to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and beyond — despite encounters with a snake, a forest fire, passing ships, pollution, and people along the way.

That’s the tale of Bill Mason’s beautiful film Paddle to the Sea (1966), based on an award-winning children’s book and nominated for an Oscar. You can watch the 28-minute movie here, via the National Film Board of Canada. But you’ll want to take it in again this weekend, when a Chicago-based, Grammy-winning percussion quartet visits the Cleveland Museum of Art.

On Sunday, February 11 at 2:00 pm at Gartner Auditorium, Third Coast Percussion (David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and Sean Connors) will give a live performance of their new, original score alongside a screening of Paddle to the Sea. The work is a co-commission of CMA. Part of the Museum’s Performing Arts Series, the concert will also include water-related works that influenced the score: pieces by Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman, as well as traditional music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. You can reserve tickets here.

In a recent conversation, Robert Dillon said the group’s collaborative approach to composing the score was inspired in part by synthetic chemists, who experiment with combinations of materials to invent new ones. “We each came up with different snippets and ideas, sometimes just abstract concepts of sound,” Dillon said. “That became a sort of musical catalog that all four of us referred to for ideas when we were composing different sections of the piece.”

From there, a draft of a section would be passed on whenever someone felt stuck, or when somebody had an idea. “Then they would work on it for a while and come back with a different version of it.”

This was Third Coast’s second collaborative composition, following up on their 2016 piece Reaction YieldDillon noted that the process had evolved from that project to this one. “For Paddle to the Sea, there was more revising of sections that other people had worked on. Each of us had responsibility for certain segments of the film, but at the end of the day it’s hard to say, ‘This section was Rob’s,’ or ‘This was Peter’s.’ Things got marbled through more and more.”

Busy with their self-run ensemble, Third Coast’s members don’t often have time to write music, which is one reason they enjoyed this project. “It was guaranteed there would be time for composing, because we had to.” Dillon added that the joint process also made composing feel less daunting. “You knew you weren’t trying to figure it all out yourself. If you had a good idea you could bring it to the table, and even if you didn’t know where to go with it next, maybe it would inspire someone else to take it and run with it.”

Has the collaborative approach impacted the group in any way? “This was one more thing that’s gotten us excited about the work we do together as an ensemble. It’s made us feel, even more than before, that we’re all creative stewards of this organization.

Read the rest of the article here.


Album Review: Paddle to the Sea

February 6, 2018
by Richard Allen

First came Holling C. Holling’s beloved 1941 children’s book, in which a young boy carved a Native American figure and set him on a journey to the sea, from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.  25 years later, a half-hour film was released; and now, 42 years after that, Third Coast Percussion reimagines the score.

This is one of the highest-profile releases we’ve ever reviewed, as Third Coast Percussion has been positively reviewed by The New York Times and won a Grammy Award a year ago with a recording of music by Steve Reich.  But make no mistake: this music may be accessible, but it’s far from the mainstream (pun intended).  It’s as playful as a children’s book, but as mature as a mallet orchestra can be.  If one appreciates instruments such as desk bells, wood blocks, marimba and mbira, then one will love this album, regardless of its backstory.  If not, one may be overwhelmed, as the CD nearly reaches its 80-minute limit.  We should mention that ceramic floor tiles are also used ~ yes, you may be able to try this at home ~ and Walken fans will rejoice, because there’s cowbell!

But wait, there’s more!  If you order now, you’ll also get compositions by Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman, along with a traditional Shona piece, all based on water themes and all for the same amazing low price!  One of the Glass pieces, “Madera River”, even serves as the ebullient overture.  But there’s not as much cowbell in that piece ~ you’ll have to wait for “The Lighthouse and the Cabin”.  Third Coast Percussion is having an awful lot of fun here, so we’re following their lead.  There’s something oxymoronic about taking playful music seriously, but modern composition is in dire need of the levity which these lads provide.  In their press photo, their colorful mallet sticks look like a pile of discarded Tinkertoys.  And they are definitely enjoying themselves in the video below.

The occasional water sounds (first apparent in “The Lighthouse and the Cabin”, resurfacing in “The Stewards”) help to ground the music in geography.  One can’t help but think of the wooden carving making his way to the sea.  But one also imagines Native American tribes along the journey, playing their own instruments (for example, the pounding drums of “Niagra” and rollicking bongos of “The Locks”) and cheering the little guy on.  In sparse moments (“Sanctuary”), individual instruments are highlighted, but when all four let loose at once, their glee is contagious.  And when the waves launch the opening minute of “The Lighthouse”, there is great rejoicing ~ the figure has found the sea.

From this point, there’s still half an album to go, but as good as the rest may be, it seems like bonus material.  The dividing line is the Shona song, which would work well as closing credits, despite its difference from the rest of the album.  After that, the energy level dissipates somewhat.  It’s hard to sustain the high water mark of the story-based material, but it’s also hard to criticize the generosity of so much music.  Glass and Druckman pieces alternate, the former lush and upbeat, the latter spare and downbeat.  The sequencing highlights their tonal difference, but our preference would have been to group them together, especially as each composer’s tracks are part of the same composition, not originally intended to be presented in pieces.  But this is a minor quibble, and the home listener can correct it with a few buttons or keys.  The lead story is that Third Coast Percussion should be up for another Grammy with this set, and that “Paddle to the Sea” (the composition) is a fine elaboration on an already well-loved story: one that should please its many generations of fans.

Click here to purchase Paddle to the Sea.

“Madeira River” on NPR’s “Songs We Love”

February 2, 2018
by Brad Turner

At first, there’s just a drip: a gentle pulse from a marimba. Then a bewitching melody played on a set of tuned cowbells enters and the music comes into focus. The four musicians in the Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion let the piece unfold deliberately. They play as if they’re a single, eight-armed organism.

“Madeira River,” named for an Amazon River tributary, is vintage Philip Glass — up to a point. The melody floats on a bed of relentless eighth notes. The rumble of an organ recalls the teeth-rattling opening to Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi film score. But Third Coast Percussion’s arrangement teems with odd overtones from metal pipes and Thai gongs. They lend the music a sense of frailty rarely heard in recordings of Glass’ work.

A sense of understatement gives this interpretation much of its potency. It’s one of four short Aguas da Amazonia pieces by Glass the group arranged for the upcoming album Paddle to the SeaGlass fans may recall the vivid, equally percussive, renditions released by the Brazilian group Uakti in 1999.

This new version of “Madeira River” highlights the craftsmanship Third Coast Percussion puts into each phrase. Even subtle moments can be revelatory. In the final third of the piece, the hypnotic repetition gives way to a hushed descending pattern. The speed picks up and the musicians remain in sync until the surprise ending. Suddenly the music comes to a halt and all that’s left are sweet overtones lingering in the air.

“Madeira River” and Third Coast’s other Glass arrangements can be found on their newest album, Paddle to the Sea, which you can purchase here.

Album Review: Augusta Read Thomas’s Ritual Incantations

January 29, 2018
Stuart Sillitoe

This release marks the seventh collection of music by Thomas from the Nimbus stable, though I must admit to it being the first I have heard; I first became aware of Augusta Read Thomas’ music through a disc of American music performed by the Ying Quartet (QTZ2005) which featured her piece Eagle at Sunrise, since when I have downloaded some selected works, but this is my first disc dedicated to her music, and the breadth of output here shows what I have been missing.

The most recent work on the disc is , composed in July 2017; it is written for four percussionists playing two marimbas. The booklet notes state that here Thomas is in “fun-and games mode” and the piece is certainly enjoyable and vibrant. Third Coast Percussion also seems to be enjoying the piece as they give a performance full of life and zest.

This disc makes an excellent introduction to the music of Augusta Read Thomas, as it not only introduces the listener to the different aspects of her compositional style for different sized ensembles, but it also presents the works so well too, with each work being given a first-rate performance. The recorded sound is very good as are the booklet notes, if you haven’t heard her music this is a fine place to start, or to add to your collection of the music of this vibrant and engaging composer.

Read the full review here.

Sound Spells: Augusta Read Thomas’s Ritual Incantations

We are always honored to collaborate with one of the most renowned composers of our time, our dear friend Augusta Read Thomas. Just before our premiere of her concerto Sonorous Earth last November, Augusta released her seventh album with Nimbus Records entitled Ritual Incantationsand we were thrilled to be included with our performance of , her most recent percussion quartet for us. The album was just profiled in La Tempestad, a prominent Mexican magazine that covers contemporary visual arts, literature, performative arts, film, architecture, and design. Thank you, Gusty, for your work with us and for your amazing contributions to today’s music!

January 25, 2018
by Jeremy Glazier
trans. Guillermo García Pérez

Ten years ago Augusta Read Thomas’s Astral Canticle, a double concerto for flute and violin, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Over the decade that followed, her stature as a major American composer has only increased: she was appointed University Professor, a prestigious position, at the University of Chicago in 2010; she has amassed significant honors, including a Grammy nomination and the Cultural Medal of Monaco; and, as the New York Times reported, her music was performed more frequently in 2013-2014 than any other living composer. Thomas has produced a body of work that speaks to our hearts as well as our minds, and that constantly surprises and delights in its range, its beauty, and its magic.

When I interviewed Thomas for the 2010 Contemporary Music Festival at The Ohio State University, where she was guest composer, she spoke about the essential alchemy of her music, which is “highly notated, very carefully worked out, but on the other hand […] spontaneous — and fun.” Her music, I noted then, was intellectual without being stuffy; it was rhythmic and colorful and clever, but never vapid. “I grew up in the Sixties,” she told me: jazz greats—such as Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk—were just as much an influence on her as modernists like Debussy and Ravel. Her newest album, Ritual Incantations, is a perfect example of that alchemy. It contains nine works, most of them from 2015 or later and seven that are recorded here for the first time.

The title comes from the album’s earliest work, a 1999 cello concerto in three movements. The soloist—call him a magician, an enchanter—seems to cast a spell over the orchestra in the first movement, gets hypnotized by them in turn in the second, and spends the third locked in a magical war of wits that produces one of Thomas’s finest and most exciting concertos. At only 14 minutes, Ritual Incantations is a compressed, tightly controlled work—Thomas herself describes it as “nuanced lyricism under pressure”—where not a single note seems wasted. (A more recent cello concerto, Legend of the Phoenix (2013), is twice as long—but, as she says in her program note, still “precise, carefully structured, […] and at every level concerned with transformations and connections.”)

Those transformations can be heard even in a small piece, such as Eurythmy Etudes for solo piano (2007), with its contrasting movements titled “Motion Detector” and “Still Life”—a dialectic reminiscent of the organic/mechanical “Dichotomie” favored by Esa-Pekka Salonen, to whom Thomas dedicated her 2003 trombone concerto, Canticle Weaving. They can also be seen in full-color display in the “maps of form” Thomas often creates to accompany her works; these sketches aren’t graphic scores but rather visual diagrams that creatively illustrate the aural connections within the piece, with different colored lines, squiggles, dots, and arrows mapping out the sonic transmutations unfolding in time.

Music has always been its own kind of magic. In Chi for string quartet, Thomas invokes “the vital life force energy of the universe […] which flows through everything in creation.” The fourteen minute work is in four movements, each of which can also be programmed alone or as a smaller cluster: one example of the caprice—what Thomas described to me as “a certain wink of the eye”—that characterizes her work. Premiered at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel in April 2017 by the renowned Spektral Quartet, Chi is also a long-standing nickname for Chicago, the city Thomas calls home and which was the setting for last year’s six-day Ear Taxi Music Festival—showcasing 54 world premieres, some 350 performers, and 88 composers—which she spearheaded.

The most recent work on the piece is —another spelling of the Chinese concept of “chi.” In the program note, Paul Pellay likens this six-minute work for percussion quartet playing two marimbas to “4 interlocking gears, the players having to mesh and dovetail with the absolute precision of well-oiled gears and cogs whirring away in a fine Swiss watch.” A mechanical metaphor may seem odd for music Thomas associates with such ethereal spiritual concepts as “prana in Hinduism (and elsewhere in Indian culture), pneuma in ancient Greece, mana in Hawaiian culture, lüng in Tibetan Buddhism,” etc.—yet, as Arthur C. Clarke famous noted, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Thomas’s own brand of techne, or craftsmanship, is sufficiently advanced—as is the performance of Third Coast Percussion, who are always spellbinding to watch live. (They joined with the Spektral Quartet at the premiere of Chi in a riveting performance of Thomas’s octet for percussion and string quartet, Selene – Moon Chariot Rituals.) Their recording of brims with relentless energy.

Also included on the album are a number of prayers and enchantments. Angel Tears & Earth Prayers—in an intriguing version for saxophone and organ—was commissioned by the American Guild of Organists in 2006 for use during church services. Klee Musings (2016), an ekphrastic triptych for piano trio, contains a middle section called “Cathedrals (prayer for peace)”, inspired by the painting of the German Expressionist Paul Klee—who was himself an accomplished violinist and married to a pianist. Rhea Enchanted and Venus Enchanted, two recent miniatures for solo cello, take their inspiration from Greek myth: “I wanted to try to sculpt a short piece,” Thomas writes of the latter, “but one with fertile variety of characters all woven together in a tightly integrated and organic composition.” It is part of Thomas’s wizardry that she can see a piece of music as a sculpture—or as a “ribbon of sound evoking the life-force of one of the many cathedrals depicted in Klee’s painting.”

In one of the most surprising works on the album, Dappled Things (2015), Thomas offers a gorgeous reading of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s famous curtal sonnet, “Pied Beauty,” which begins with the prayer, “Glory be to God for dappled things.” Hopkins praises “all things counter, original, spare, strange; / Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?).” In this setting for male glee club, the language of the poem—written in 1877—is intricately brocaded; rather than a straightforward, line-by- line setting, the words spiral out kaleidoscopically, and the repetitions of key words and images from the poem lend the song the “brindled” quality that Hopkins himself saw in the world around him and was transported by. The song reaches a breathtaking climax with the poem’s penultimate line, whose irony, that the God who creates such a dappled and ever-changing universe is himself “past change,” is simple yet mysteriously profound—and the work ends quietly on Hopkins’s nearly dumbfounded injunction: “Praise Him.” This is a work of great joy—indeed, this is a composer for whom music and joy are synonymous. In a world that all too often seems dappled by our more destructive magicks, Thomas herself deserves a great deal of praise.

Ensemble Member Rob Dillon in conversation with Classical IPR

January 24, 2018
by Amanda Sewell

Ensemble member Rob Dillon recently traveled to Interlochen, Michigan, to work with the percussion ensemble of the Interlochen Academy of the Arts, a fine arts boarding high school that trains young artists in music, theatre, visual arts, film, creative writing and dance. Between rehearsal sessions with these talented young people, he visited Interlochen Public Radio and chatted with Classical IPR’s Amanda Sewell about some pieces of music that deeply influenced his own life and career. He also explained how a percussionist creates the sound of a lion roaring as well as which member of Third Coast Percussion got to keep the Grammy statuette. Click here to hear the entire conversation, complete with music!

Both the Arts Academy Percussion Ensemble and Third Coast Percussion will perform in April as part of Interlochen Center for the Arts’ Steve Reich Festival. Click here for more information about Third Coast’s performance.

Sean Connors “Takes 5” with Cedille Records

January 10, 2018
by Dan Hickey

Our first release of 2018 comes from “one of the country’s finest new music ensembles” (Chicago Reader), Grammy-winning Third Coast Percussion! Paddle to the Sea, the group’s second album on Cedille Records, is out February 9 and transports listeners into a realm of imaginative sounds and world-premiere recordings evoking the aquatic world. It’s an eclectic collection of works including a new group composition from TCP titled Paddle to the Sea (conceived as a live soundtrack to the charming, Oscar-nominated 1966 film of the same name), Jacob Druckman’s Reflections on the Nature of Water, new arrangements of selections from 12 Pieces for Ballet by Philip Glass, and Chigwaya, a traditional Shona call to water spirits arranged by Zimbabwean composer Musekiwa Chingdoza. We interviewed ensemble member Sean Connors for our first Take 5! of the year. Enjoy!

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?

Definitely a teacher. All four of us in TCP are passionate educators, and our educational projects and collaborations are some of our most rewarding work. If I couldn’t teach music, I’d love to teach a subject like history to high schoolers.  Creating an “aha-moment” with a group of young curious minds is an amazing experience!

What is your most recent project and what sparked your interest in it?

That’s such a hard question to answer because there are so many inspiring projects that we’re currently developing! One collaboration that we’re especially excited about for next season is a concert program that we’re developing with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. We first worked with Hubbard Street in 2014, on a performance that combined Jiří Kylián’s Falling Angels with Steve Reich’s iconic work, Drumming. Since that first collaboration, we’ve given over a dozen performances together both in Chicago and on tour. In 2018, HSDC and TCP will team up for an original, evening length work that will tour select dates in the 2018/19 season.

Was there a formative moment for you as an artist?

I’m lucky enough to work with a group that constantly pushes me and sparks new ideas as an artist during every rehearsal. That’s a special thing as a musician, and we don’t take that for granted. I think that all four of us have really been shaped by consistently being in contact with three other musicians who are supportive, but who also challenge us to push ourselves farther. One example of this is our recent ventures into the co-composition process. We first tried this out with a Third-Coast-composed piece entitled Reaction Yield and brought a very similar process to our jointly-composed score Paddle to the Sea. Not one of us alone would have gotten to the same artistic place that we arrived together, and I find that incredibly encouraging. Personally, I think that’s an encouraging and formative lesson that I learned as an artist that I try to apply to all aspects of my life.

What album/band are you listening to right now?

I’m particularly excited for the newest album from Son Lux.  I’ve been listening to their newest single “Dream State” a bunch in anticipation of Brighter Wounds which comes out in February. I have to admit, I’m biased, because Third Coast recently collaborated with Ryan Lott from Son Lux on a new piece that he wrote from us. We played on the same festival as Ryan, Rafiq and Ian a few years back and I instantly became a giant fan of this incredibly virtuosic trio.  A nice entryway into the band for those who aren’t familiar is their NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert, which features a horn section composed of members of the US Marine Band.

What makes the Chicago classical music scene unique?

The people! Musicians. Audience members. Concert presenters. Everyone here is supportive of each other, willing to take a chance on new ideas, and extremely active as a community member. This is epitomized by the very existence of Cedille Records, an organization that has been supporting Chicago musicians for decades and getting our music out to the wider world.



Third Coast Percussion Contributes to UChicago Presents: Gyorgy Ligeti Series

January 22, 2018
by Andrew Bauld

Over the next several months, University of Chicago Presents will celebrate the life and works of celebrated 20th-century classical composer, György Ligeti, through a series of musical events and lectures.

Amy Iwano, executive director of University of Chicago Presents, has long hoped to organize a performance around Ligeti, who is considered one of the most influential avant-garde composers of the last century. Her intent was to create a celebration both of his music and scholarship.

We are very lucky in Chicago to have fantastic artists and ensembles who create really interesting programming, and in these concerts, we see Ligeti’s legacy—his impact on a younger generation of artists and how his music is evolving in their hands,” Iwano said.

Iwano worked closely with Music Department musicologists Seth Brodsky and Jennifer Iverson and composers Anthony Cheung and Sam Pluta, along with musical groups Third Coast Percussion and Eighth Blackbird, to create the series that began earlier this October. The series concludes on March 6 with a special performance by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the famed pianist who worked closely with Ligeti during his lifetime.

On Friday, Feb. 2, Eighth Blackbird will join with Hungarian percussion group Amadinda to perform a selection of Ligeti’s piano etudes. Then, on Friday, Feb. 16, Third Coast Percussion will present three of Ligeti’s works, including Poème Symphonique, a spectacular performance that includes 100 mechanical metronomes. Both shows will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Logan Center.

David Skidmore, executive director of Third Coast Percussion, said his group is thrilled to get to share the works of “one of the great composers of our lifetime at the height of his prowess” with the UChicago community. Skidmore says they are working closely with UChicago students to prepare for the show, who are helping to procure the metronomes.

“The students will also help us design the performance, which leaves a lot to the imagination and allows for some fun extra-musical ideas with regards to staging, position of the metronomes in the concert hall,” Skidmore said. “It’s so rare to hear a live performance of this piece, and we’re so excited to bring the performance to Chicago!”

Each concert will also feature a pre-performance lecture by a member of the music faculty; and following the concert series, the Department of Music will host a scholarly conference, “Dislocations: Reassessing Ligeti,” from March 7-8.

For more information about György Ligeti and about UChicago’s series, click here.