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

“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.

Third Coast Percussion’s Kaleidoscopic Album The Book of Keyboards

I care if you listen Logo

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.

spektral quartet photoWeb - TCP Press Photo COLOR - Photo by Saverio Truglialincoln trio photo

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.