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

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


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


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.



Third Coast Percussion at The Nasher Sculpture Center

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October 20, 2017

by Scott Cantrell

The Nasher Sculpture Center‘s “Soundings” would be hard to dethrone as the area’s most inventive, even provocative, classical concert series. Curated by pianist Seth Knopp, it mainly focuses on new music, but often with illuminating associations with older fare.

The 1966 Bill Mason film Paddle to the Sea, itself based on the eponymous 1941 children’s book by Holling C. Holling, was the engine of Wednesday’s performance by Third Coast Percussion, a Grammy Award-winning ensemble in residence at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. The program drew a literally SRO audience to the Nasher’s basement auditorium; even after additional chairs were brought in, some people were left standing.

Facing a side wall, the audience was arranged in semicircles around an array of tuned and untuned percussion instruments. Episodes from the film, about the waterborne adventures of a child’s small, hand-carved American Indian in a canoe, were projected on a large screen over the musicians. Undulating abstract patterns by video artist Joseph Burke sometimes alternated with and sometimes overlaid images from the film.

The printed program listed musical titles by Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman, plus original creations by Third Coast Percussion. Although musical connections to water were mentioned in program notes, the selections weren’t obviously illustrative. With one’s attention so much fixed on the video, one piece tended to elide into another.

There were hypnotic burblings of marimba, occasional punctuations and assaults of drums, tinkles of tiny bells, clops of wood blocks and bongs of cowbells, sometimes undergirded by synthesizer bass patterns. At the end, a Zimbabwean song calling forth water spirits was performed with four tinkling mbiras, small hand pianos played with thumbs, and with vocalizations for the four players.

All told, it was an arresting and enjoyable way to spend an intermission-less 65 minutes. Music from this program will be featured on a compact disc to be released by the Cedille label in February.

Chicago Philharmonic Presents New Work by Augusta Read Thomas with Third Coast Percussion

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October 18, 2017
by BWW News Desk

The Chicago Philharmonic returns to Harris Theater on November 12 for the third year, proudly presenting the world premiere of Augusta Read Thomas’ Sonorous Earth with 2017 Grammy award-winning Third Coast Percussion. This celebration of commonality across cultures and the “extraordinary beauty and diversity inherent in bell sounds” (Thomas), was inspired by her 2012 composition Resounding Earth with the groundbreaking Chicago percussion ensemble and features heavily Thomas’ trademark use of bells with over 300 pieces of metal sourced from a range of cultures and historical periods.

The Chicago Philharmonic Society commissioned this work by Thomas, an acclaimed Grammy winning and Pulitzer nominated composer who is currently University Professor at the University of Chicago. Thomas devoted 18 months to composing Sonorous Earth, which can be heard as a “United-Nations-of-Resonances.” The work is also co-commissioned by the Eugene Symphony who will present the West Coast premiere in April 2018.

“A world premiere by Augusta Read Thomas is always a momentous occasion; and a collaboration between the Chicago Philharmonic and Third Coast Percussion is a moment to cherish. How exciting to bring both events together in a single concert!” – Chicago Philharmonic Artistic Director Scott Speck

Accompanying the new work is Joan Tower’s fifth Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, an ode to risk-taking and adventurous women across the world by a composer who herself paved the way for women to find their musical voice. And rounding out the program is the exhilarating and transcendent Symphony No. 41 (“Jupiter”), Mozart’s last symphony.

“Bells can be used to celebrate grand occasions, hold sacrificial rites, keep a record of events, give the correct time, celebrate births and weddings, mark funerals, caution a community, enhance any number of religious ceremonies, and are even hung around the necks of animals. As carriers of history and culture, of numerous shapes, sizes, types, decorative patterns, and of diverse weights, functions, and cultural connotations, bells enrapture and inspire.” – Augusta Read Thomas

“This work embodies everything that has made Augusta Read Thomas one of our favorite collaborators over the years: an ambitious enthusiasm, precise attention to detail, thoughtful sense of craft, and deep understanding of sonic colors.”
– Third Coast Percussion

Third Coast Percussion Soars After Winning Grammy Award

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August 29, 2017
by Louis Harris

Last year’s Ear Taxi Festival put Chicago’s vibrant contemporary art music scene on display, demonstrating a deep and talented community of local composers and performers. One of the brightest lights of our scene is Third Coast Percussion, a quartet of classically trained musicians who specialize in hitting objects with mallets, drum sticks, hammers, hands, fingers—anything that elicits a rhythmic sound from another object.  …  Their music is not centered on bongos or a drum kit; rather, it features marimbas, vibraphones, bells, triangles, cymbals, chimes, gongs, and all manner of resounding objects.

The ensemble has now won their first Grammy, toured internationally, and completed their first collective musical compositions. In reflecting on TCP’s aspirations, Skidmore said, “To continue to reach new audiences is a big thing for us, and that means not just here in the States but also overseas. We’d like to do more international touring, including Europe, Asia, Africa, South America.” Summing it up, he said, “I think that the work that we’ve done so far is indicative of the work that we want to do. We want to continue to champion this music. It will always be new to somebody; it’s such a new art form. If we spent our lives playing concerts for people who have never heard of percussion concerts, that would be enough, that would be a fantastic idea to me.”

They are proud for these concerts to take place in Chicago, their starting point and still their home. “What we found about Chicago is that it is an incredibly thriving artistic scene,” explained Skidmore, “but it doesn’t come with the prohibitive price tag of New York, San Francisco, or certain other cities. To be an artist here, you can start young, really scrappy, just pulling together work here and there, and doing what you’re really passionate about. It’s hard, just as hard here as anywhere else. But there’s a support structure, there are other people who are into what you’re doing. … I think it’s an amazing place to be as an artist.”

Read more about their past, present, and future here. 

CD Reviews: The Book of Keyboards

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by Blair Sanderson
August 29, 2017

For its third release on the New Focus label, the Chicago-based ensemble Third Coast Percussion presents works by the French composer Philippe Manoury in an album of intriguing tone color studies called “The Book of Keyboards.”   …   The performances have a hypnotic quality, and Third Coast Percussion delivers plenty of atmosphere, though the ensemble’s playing is clearly well-rehearsed and precise.

Click here to read the full review. 

CD reviews: a Reich retrospective.


April 15, 2016
by Patrick Rucker

REICH: Third Coast Percussion: Cedille Records

In artistic matters, labeling anyone “the greatest” almost always boils down to oversimplification or hyperbole. But it is difficult to argue with Kyle Gann, who wrote that Steve Reich “may be considered, by general acclamation, America’s greatest living composer.” Reich turns 80 in October, and the Chicago-based group Third Coast Percussion has devoted its latest recording to works spanning his long career. TCP — Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and David Skidmore — describe themselves as “second generation” Reich interpreters, meaning that none of them worked with the composer and all of them came of age when his music was already established in the repertory.

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