Press Materials


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

WFMT’s 10 Best Live Performances of 2017

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We were proud to share the WFMT stage with fellow Chicago Grammy nominees Spektral Quartet and the Lincoln Trio in October of last year. Thanks, WFMT, for including our concert in your Top 10 List of 2017!

Hear our concert, and nine other great broadcast performances, here.

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Book of Keyboards: Second Inversion’s Top 10 Albums of 2017

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December 27, 2017
by Dacia Clay

If classical music is a volcanic island, percussion ensembles are the lava and magma that makes the new land. They’re always on the edge, pushing out, making new sounds with new instruments. And that’s exactly what Third Coast Percussion is doing on Book of Keyboards. They’ve recorded two works by modernist composer Philippe Manoury—sometimes sounding like an elaborate wooden wind chime orchestra, and at other times leaving long, worshipful tensions between notes.

Some of the instruments used on this album are familiar enough—like marimbas and vibraphones—but I’m gonna bet you’ve never heard the sixxen, because they were invented by a guy named Iannis Xenakis (also an avant-garde composer) and homemade by Third Coast. I wonder if performing on instruments that you’ve made by hand is as exciting/terrifying as flying a kit plane that you’ve built in your garage? Third Coast never lets on, moving through these two works, “Le Livre des Clavier,” and “Metal,” like seasoned pilots flying in formation.


CD Review – Third Coast Percussion in The Book of Keyboards

December 11, 2017
by Jarrett Hoffman

With their latest album, The Book of Keyboards, Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion drops you into another world. The inhabitants: six bafflingly good players, one revelatory composer in Philippe Manoury, a family of four tuned percussion instruments, and you — and after hearing this music there’s no going back.

In Le Livre des Claviers, which lends the recording its English title, Manoury stretches the definition of “keyboards” to include six low-pitched Thai gongs in the opening movement, along with marimbas. No time for introductions — the message from the two mallet instruments is all steady urgency. At the end the gongs spill out their deep, murky resonance, a portal to step inside.

The composer alternates between short movements and long. The meatier “Marimba Duo” shows off his flexibility, from order to chaos and back in a flash. Influenced by Boulez, his vocabulary is complex and intense but feels instinctual rather than intellectual. It takes a whole lot of skill and musicality to pull off that balance, as Robert Dillon and David Skidmore do with zest, precision, and seeming ease.

A mysterious instrument makes its appearance next. Iannis Xenakis dreamed up ‘Sixxen’ for his sextet Pleiades, specifying sonic parameters but leaving no specific designs for the instrument, according to Third Coast’s liner notes. The group built theirs from scratch using different lengths of aluminum U-channel, an industrial construction material, and the result is delightfully clangy.

If the stellar compositions and performances weren’t enough, it’s fun just to hear the different colors of the keyboard family. Peter Martin takes things a step further in the solo vibraphone movement, drawing pillowy, radiant, and stubbed sounds from his single instrument. The performance is impressively varied, but Manoury’s material here lacks some of its usual surprise, losing steam over the seven minutes. Making up for it is a special ending: Martin stacks a long arpeggio, then gradually dampens the lower notes until the one up top rings alone.

Thai gongs carve out their own space for a real dialogue with marimbas in a reprise of that combination. Gongs take the lead in the middle section, where Manoury’s background in electroacoustic music comes through. The ensemble calls moments like these his “unimaginable sound worlds” — some underbelly of the earth you didn’t know existed. Instead of opting for this powerful conclusion, the composer adds another movement of Sixxen.

Here the performers summon venom for their most violent hits, dampen the instruments to make them croak, and somehow create the impression of chimes in the wind, grazing naturally and without purpose. Third Coast’s kaleidoscope of articulations continues to impress. 

Read the full review here.


CD Hotlist: The Book of Keyboards

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December 4, 2017
by Rick Anderson

French composer Philippe Manoury writes percussion music that is brutally demanding, in terms of both the technical requirements it places on the musicians, and the technical requirements for simply getting ready to play it. The six-movement title work (and the 22-minute Métal, which follows it on the program) require not only traditional percussion instruments like marimbas, vibraphones, and Thai gongs, but also the construction of a multipart instrument called the Sixxen. But although the music is hugely demanding of the performers, it’s quite accessible and enjoyable for the listener. The dense flurries of notes are impressive but also beautiful, and there are strong nods to familiar genres like gamelan and 20th-century minimalism in the mix. Strongly recommended to all libraries.

 


Best of Bandcamp Contemporary Classical: November 2017

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November 27, 2017
by Peter Margasak

Chicago’s remarkable Third Coast Percussion spent several years working on this challenging work by French composer Philippe Manoury, a demanding piece for tuned percussion of rigorous post-Boulez complexity. It’s an interesting project for the group, who have proactively pushed the sounds of contemporary percussion music away from the academy toward a more mainstream listenership. But the music of Manoury—who often works in electro-acoustic contexts—is a long way from Steve Reich or Augusta Read Thomas. That the group is able to essay these difficult works with such deceptive ease and genuine clarity, giving The Book of Keyboards a glistening appeal, speaks to their technical mastery. Five of the six movements, as well as an epic complementary piece, “Métal,” are actually scored for a percussion sextet, and on those pieces the group is joined by Gregory Beyer of Ensemble Dal Niente and Ross Karre of International Contemporary Ensemble.

Those movements feature a variety of expected instruments like marimba and vibraphone, but they also require the ensemble to play hard-to-find Thai gongs and versions of a microtonal homemade instrument called a sixxen, originally conceived of by the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis. Yet ultimately, it’s the exacting score, which asks the musicians to play with fluidity and grace while navigating thorny, hyper-difficult passages—both in terms of rhythm and melody—that are part of a score that largely dispenses with transparent structures, although the music itself is intensely structured. Manoury’s facility with electro-acoustic works is apparent in the use of overtones, a virtual extravaganza of ringing resonance, even on “Marimba Duo” between Robert Dillon and David Skidmore, and “Vibraphone Solo” played by Peter Martin.

Read about the other albums featured in this edition of Bandcamp Daily here.


Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra performs NU alumna’s piece featuring 300 bells

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November 16, 2017
by Jane Recker

The Harris Theater stage is 2,025 square feet. On Sunday afternoon, half of that space was taken up by the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra. The remaining 1,012 square feet were claimed by the four members of Third Coast Percussion for their 300 assorted bells. The quartet — a Grammy Award-winning, Chicago-based group of Northwestern alumni — was there to perform the world premiere of Augusta Read Thomas’ (Bienen ’87) “Sonorous Earth.”

“Sonorous Earth” is a percussion quartet concerto in four movements. The opening three movements feature different families of bells ranging in size from 3-foot gongs to bells the size of a thumbnail. The first movement is energetic and fanfare-like; the second is an intimate prayer; and the third is playful and capricious, Thomas said. The composition ends with a “resonant and clangorous” climax in which musicians strike every single one of the 300 bells.

“It’s a very complex piece with many different colors,” said Chicago Philharmonic artistic director and conductor Scott Speck. He added that it has been invaluable to have close access to the composer, as it allowed him to ensure he’s crafting the piece in Thomas’ vision. This attention to precision is also demonstrated by the Third Coast members. Thomas said she is consistently impressed by their prowess for nuanced performance, deftly navigating the fine gradations of loudness and softness, and accurately interpreting each note.

The quartet needed a high level of precision as the featured soloists of the percussion quartet concerto — a genre not commonly found in the Western canon. Skidmore said Thomas’ decision to celebrate this genre was a great way to showcase the leading power of percussion and put the piece in a global setting. “In the classical music tradition, percussion has taken a backseat,” said David Skidmore, Third Coast member and Executive Director. “But in so many other traditions all over the world, percussion is at the forefront. You can find percussion in every single culture around the world.

Some of the piece’s bells came from India, Thailand and Japan. Thomas said she hopes she highlighted the interdependence of humanity across all cultures in the show. “To me, this piece is a beautiful metaphor about the interdependence of all of us around the world and the commonalities,” Thomas said. “We’re all human; we shouldn’t be killing each other. This piece is a celebration of that humanity we should all share.”

It’s this global engagement that inspired the piece’s poetic name, too. “That’s why I called it ‘Sonorous Earth,’” she said. “Let’s celebrate all of the sonorousness of this earth and all of the sounds from these bells that mankind has made.”

Read the full feature here.

 


“Sonorous Earth” makes a heavenly noise with Third Coast Percussion, Chicago Philharmonic

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November 14, 2017
by Wynne Delacoma

Sunday afternoon at the Harris Theater the Chicago Philharmonic partnered with the virtuoso Third Coast Percussion ensemble for the world premiere of Sonorous Earth by Augusta Read Thomas, a former CSO composer-in-residence.  A reworking of a chamber piece she wrote a few years ago for the four-member percussion ensemble, it offers bells on steroids.

Filled with racks hung with a dizzying array of bells and gongs, the stage looked like the display floor of a musical instrument store. During most of the 30-minute, four-movement piece, Third Coast percussionists—David Skidmore, Sean Connors, Robert Dillon and Peter Martin—played in front of both the orchestra and conductor Scott Speck.  It was obvious, however, that the quartet had absorbed this piece into its very bones. Thanks, perhaps, to mental telepathy, the quartet and orchestra operated as a single, expressively rhythmic unit.

Both the first and final movements were full of exuberant sonic explosions, but it was difficult, on first hearing, to discern their underlying structure. Thomas is an extremely precise composer, not given to simply hurling sound into the air simply because she can. Each of the four movements paid homage to composers important to Thomas, from Lou Harrison to Pierre Boulez. Persistent, off-kilter rhythms in the opening movement evoked Stravinsky. But the most memorable moments were strictly sonic–silver, crystalline strands of high-pitched bells against the dark satin of the rich-toned orchestra, the ear-splitting cacophony of discordant bells sounding at once.

Thomas’s musical architecture was clearer in the second movement (“Prayer”) and the third (”Mantra”).  Focused on the serene, pure resonance of Japanese bowls, the second movement’s atmosphere was mystical. Often in works for strong solo ensemble and orchestra, the orchestra is simply a back-up band, offering little beyond rhythmic support for the ensemble in the spotlight. That was never the case with Sonorous Earth, but especially in the second movement the connection between the orchestra and Third Coast Percussion was seamlessly organic. At one point the percussionists sent forth a glowing, luminous chord that the orchestra picked up almost imperceptibly, with the winds and strings vastly expanding the chord’s radiant depth and breadth. In the jaunty third movement, the orchestra was a big-hearted playmate to the high-energy percussion. Like rambunctious boys, its burly brass and blustery double basses repeatedly darted in to interrupt the lighter, sprightly bells.


A symphony of 300 bells at the Chicago Philharmonic

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November 13, 2017
by John von Rhein

In separate concerts over the weekend, two similarly named groups, Third Coast Percussion and Third Coast Baroque, reminded audiences of the increasingly vital roles new classical music and early music play in the performing arts life of Chicago.

The quartet of virtuoso percussion players calling themselves Third Coast Percussion has worked on several projects with Chicago composer Augusta Read Thomas. None are more ambitious, more grandly scaled or more rewarding to everybody than her “Sonorous Earth,” a quasi-concerto for more than 300 bells (and other resonant pieces of metal) and symphony orchestra. The four-movement work had its world premiere by the Chicago Philharmonic on Sunday afternoon at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

Although “Sonorous Earth” draws some of its musical materials and its movement titles from “Resounding Earth” (a 2012 piece for solo percussion Thomas wrote for the Third Coast group), so greatly has she expanded the concept and structure that it feels like an entirely new work. Here one encounters the tintinnabulations of the earlier piece in a different context. What once felt ritualistic and intimate now is big, bold and public — a joyous affirmation of commonality across world cultures.

Banging away at an exotic array of bells, gongs, chimes, Japanese singing bowls and what-have-you, the Third Coasters conjured an otherworldly carillon as their sounds — now crashing and clangorous, now delicate and shimmering — washed in waves over an orchestra that often mirrored the explosive energy of the four percussionists. Imagine myriad points of light, or multiple showers of shiny metallic objects, flashing across the cosmos, and you get a sense of what this arresting and evocative music sounds like.

Each Third Coast player — David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and Sean Connors — precisely timed his gestures to those of his colleagues and the responsive orchestra under artistic director Scott Speck. The audience awarded the composer and performers a clamorous ovation.


Grammy-Winning Third Coast Percussion Preparing For Ambitious World Premiere

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November 6, 2017

WDCB‘s Gary Zidek visited our studio as we prepare our world premiere concerto that explores the layers of bell sounds. Gary even got a “Bells 101” crash course as he explored the instruments we play in Augusta Read Thomas’s Sonorous Earth. He interviewed David and Sean about the concerto, its growth from a previous collaboration with Thomas, and the universality of the bell sounds that make up the work. Hear the full interview and explore his photo gallery in “The Arts Section.”

“It’s taking a piece that we love [Thomas’s Resounding Earth] and have played so many times, and reimagining it with one of Augusta’s favorite mediums to write for: the full symphony orchestra. It’s the best of both worlds in that way.” -David Skidmore

We will premiere the concerto with the Chicago Philharmonic on Sunday, November 12, at 3:00pm in Chicago’s Harris Theater.


Seaworthy Beats

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October 21, 2017
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

The Nasher Sculpture Center’s Soundings season opens with Third Coast Percussion and an original score for the film Paddle to the Sea.

Soundings: New Music at the Nasher is an always-intriguing series at the Nasher Sculpture Center that features the music of our time. On Wednesday, the curators outdid themselves by presenting an ensemble called Third Coast Percussion that performed a live soundtrack to a 1966 Oscar-nominated movie, Paddle to the Sea. It is based on a well-known Canadian children’s book (1941) with the same title by Holling Clancy Holling. The book is in short chapters, designed to be a series of bedtime stories. The film adds an environmental message.

The 28-minute movie is available on YouTube here. It was heavily edited and expanded for the performance, extending to 65 minutes.

The story concerns a Native Canadian boy who carves a miniature canoe with a seated Native Canadian figure and writes “Paddle to the Sea, please put me back in the water” on it. The little figurine has many adventures as it makes it way through the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River to finally arrive on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.  Many individuals find the canoe, some made minor repairs, but all followed the instructions and put it back in the water.

The music comes from many sources, but is mostly from the minimalist school as epitomized by Phillip Glass and Jacob Druckerman. It also incorporates folk music gleaned from the Shona people of Zimbabwe. All of it was evocative of water.

There was an immense array of percussion instruments from the ordinary, such as a pedal bass drum, to the unidentifiable. It was heavy on pitched percussion, such as (some of these are a guess): marimba, vibraphone, orchestral bells, temple bells, Dobachi (Chinese temple bell), glass harmonica (wine glasses filled with different levels of water), Alpine Cowbells, Melodica, and many more. Most selections used most of the players but there were a couple of virtuoso marimba solos of modernist instruments.

There was something magical about the performance, but it is almost impossible to describe the experience in mere words—this is one of those you-have-to-see-it experiences.

The repetitive nature of the minimalist music served to make a Zen-like trance. While the audience members were cheering for the little canoe on its journey, we also had an overall peaceful impression that it would certainly make it to the ocean.

The last scene shows the now-grown carver of the figurine finding the little treasure he launched so many years ago. It was accompanied by all four percussionists, joining each other one by one, playing on Thumb Drums and joining in with phrases of what was presumably a Shona chant.

Unforgettable.