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

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.

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

“…the connection between the orchestra and Third Coast Percussion was seamlessly organic.”

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.