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

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.

Third Coast Percussion’s Kaleidoscopic Album The Book of Keyboards

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January 18, 2018
by Stephanie Ann Boyd

The CD case of Third Coast Percussion’s new album on New Focus Recordings of music by Philippe Manoury, The Book of Keyboards, is just as intricate and fascinating as the music itself inside. The thick paper cover opens up like a puzzle, with different fonts and graphic designs revealed with each unfolded layer. This is the work of Sonnenzimmer, a Chicago based art studio run by Nick Butcher and Nadine Nakanishi, and is the first clue as to the care and attention Third Coast Percussion has taken in all aspects of this aural “book.” Both the six movement Le Livre des Claviers (The Book of Keyboards) and the final piece on the CD, Métal, take the listener on a journey into a world that is alternatingly chaotic—filled with kinesthetic energy and bursting with a kaleidoscope of metallic color—and meditative; melodically brooding around compositional concepts.

Third Coast Percussion’s abilities as soloists and as a group mean that their commissioned composers can write for a virtuosic level of player in their pieces. Though the French composer Philippe Manoury didn’t write The Book of Keyboards for Third Coast Percussion, his visionary style and demanding writing makes this pairing of writer and performer a good match from the beginning. Manoury’s music in both The Book of Keyboards and Métal make a big ask of musicians when it comes to procuring the actual instruments necessary for performance. Robert Dillon’s clear and engaging liner notes describe how these works are scored for sixxen, “a set of six instruments which must be built from scratch,” and originally imagined by Xenakis who specified their sonic parameters but never made specific designs. Looking like a large 19-note keyboard made of straight-from-Home-Depot materials (think thick metal sheeting and wood 2 by 4s), each of the six sixxen is purposefully out of tune with the others, which leads to the palpable rainbow of tonality that is generated by these pieces. Their function all together as one instrument immediately brings to mind the workings of a Gamelan, but the collective sound of the six DIY instruments reminds me of a much different sound: the large wind chimes my mother hung on the back porch of our house during my childhood. …

The chime-like sixxen easily produces the vibrant and bombastic sonic textures that nearly overstimulate the mind in movements 3 and 6 of The Book of Keyboards, but this is well-balanced with movements like #4, where Peter Martin’s performance of this pensive, delicate music is both tender and exacting. The second movement, a duo performed by Robert Dillon and David Skidmore, is humorous and obstinate, the lines of their parts chasing each other, at times a well-placed tremolo suggesting a thumbed nose or a tongue stuck out in jest. …

The album ends with Métal, a 22-minute journey into the many facets of the sixxen sound that brings to stark relief the perfection with which Third Coast Percussion plays. The delicate complexities of this music would be lost in an instant if the performers were not playing with a fathomless focus. … Knowing these pieces and seeing the work that has been put into Third Coast Percussion’s performance is excellent motivational fodder for any percussion group looking to expand their knowledge of repertoire and improve their handling of substantially demanding music.

Read the full review here.

Rehearsal Magazine “In Conversation” with David Skidmore

Rehearsal Magazine’s Madi Chwasta caught up with ensemble member and Executive Director David Skidmore to talk collaborations, commissioning, and creating iPhone apps. Read part of this insightful interview below, or click here for the full piece.

In a short period of time, Third Coast Percussion established themselves as one of the world’s leading percussion ensembles. What inspired the creation of the group and could you have predicted the ensemble’s success from the beginning? 

We studied this music in school with an amazing teacher, Michael Burritt, who is now a professor of percussion at the Eastman School of Music. We loved the music so much that we decided to try to make a living doing it. I don’t think we really knew when we got started exactly what it takes to build something like this from the ground up, so I definitely don’t think we could have ever predicted where we would be today!

In terms of repertoire, your group commissions new percussion works by leading international composers while also performing percussion ensemble standards. How do you decide what to play and do you stick with a programmatic method for most projects? 

We’ll often learn about a piece and keep it in the back of our minds for months or even years before we decide to play it. The same goes for composers — sometimes we’ll be following a composer for years before we ask them to write for us. All of these decisions are very democratic amongst the four of us in the ensemble. We’re all pretty eclectic, and we all like a lot of music, so sometimes one or two of us will be very passionate about a piece or a composer and that makes the others want to play that music too. It’s better for even just one of us to be over the moon about something than for all four of us to be just ok with something.

Third Coast is also deeply involved in the development of education programs. What have been the expected and unexpected outcomes of working with young musicians?

I’m not sure if this was expected or unexpected, but we have learnt a ton about how to communicate with concert audiences by learning to communicate effectively to young audiences. A lot of the beauty in the music we play is wrapped up in its complexity, and when we can invite people into the experience by giving them a glimpse inside this complexity, then we are giving them a musical experience that they could not have any other way.

Your ensemble has been involved in the creation of several educational phone apps that allow audiences to engage with and understand the repertoire you play. Where did this concept come from, and how has it helped enrich your programming and non-performative work?

Developing apps was a natural extension of our other efforts to communicate to as many people as possible about this music that we are so passionate about. We have 3 free iPhone and iPad apps, based on composers we champion – John Cage, Augusta Read Thomas, and Steve Reich. They’re meant to be fun ways for audiences to be actively involved in the types of music-making pioneered by these composers—music-making that the four of us in TCP get to be a part of every day.

2017 was a huge year for your group. What’s planned for 2018?

SO MUCH! We’re releasing a new album called Paddle to the Sea on February 9, 2018. This includes the first recording of a work that the 4 of us composed together, also called Paddle to the Sea. It’s named for an iconic Canadian film, and in fact is a new score for that film that we perform live. This is a fun and invigorating new aspect of our creative lives that we are very proud of. We also just premiered our first commissioned concerto for TCP + orchestra, by Augusta Read Thomas. It’s a beautiful piece that we’re looking forward to performing more. More commissions are on the horizon, including Philip Glass’s first piece for percussion ensemble which he is writing for us this year. We’re also continuing and expanding our educational projects, including the Emerging Composers Partnership, open to early career music creators from all over, and the launch of a new educational project in our hometown of Chicago in partnership with the amazing tuition-free music school called The People’s Music School. It’s going to be a fun year!

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.