« Sharon Isbin and Isabel Leonard at the Terrace Theater | Main | JACK Quartet at the National Gallery of Art »

Third Coast Percussion at the American Music Festival

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • March 23, 2015

The National Gallery of Art’s two-week American Music Festival — one of the most adventurous and exciting celebrations of contemporary music here in years — closed Sunday with a performance by the Third Coast Percussion ensemble that proved just how vital and fertile new American music really is. Playing on instruments as varied as Tibetan singing bowls and amplified Magic Markers, the ensemble transformed the museum’s West Garden Court into a vast, resonating sonic playground, presenting four recent works that ran from mischievous humor to bluesy sensuality — delivered with virtuosity and deft, precisely timed wit.

Augusta Read ThomasThe evening opened with “Resounding Earth,” an ambitious new work by Augusta Read Thomas. Played on an array of 300 bells, gongs and other instruments, it’s an overtly spiritual work whose movements are titled “Invocation,” “Mantra” and the like. But there’s nothing New Agey about this music, no numbing yoga-music serenity. “Earth” burst irrepressibly, even joyously, with life, dancing from the shimmering of Burmese temple gongs to brutal, almost shrapnel-like explosions of sound, in a sort of elemental and  rapturous song of the Earth.

Mark Applebaum’s playful “Straitjacket” opened the second half of the program. Applebaum is a gleefully uninhibited composer, and “Straitjacket” has little use for the conventional lines dividing music, theater and art. Accompanied by the ensemble, guest percussionist Ross Karre acted out sounds with his hands, played on a drum kit that included a hard hat and plastic bucket, and drew on a giant sketch pad with a squeaking, amplified pen. Mere antics? Maybe. But Applebaum has a superb ear and an equally well-tuned mind, and you’d have to be awfully sour not to think the work was a delight.

Tyshawn Sorey brought a sensuous turn to the evening with his “Trio for Harold Budd.” A bluesy work for piano, percussion and alto flute (played with soulful elegance by Rachel Beetz), it had a rich North African flavor, dark and exotic and altogether captivating.  But it was the world premiere of Thomas DeLio’s “sound/shivering/silence II” that provided some of the most sublime music of the evening. Moving through the audience, the Third Coast players wove two brief poems by the American poet Cid Corman into DeLio’s spare, quietly eloquent music, which seemed to rise into the vaulted space and hang there, weightless and not quite of this Earth, with the distant intangible beauty of starlight.


Posted on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 at 01:39PM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.