Of Zealotry and Choral Music: Canticles from The Crossing

by Dacia Clay

Conductor Donald Nally. Photo by Becky Oehlers.

Donald Nally and his new music choir The Crossing recently won a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance for their recording of the Zealot Canticles by composer Lansing McLoskey.

It’s clear that The Crossing has tapped into something: this is their second Grammy win (their first was for The Fifth Century by Gavin Bryars). It might have something to do with the timely message McLoskey’s piece conveys about zealotry in all of its forms and about how we talk to and about each other in a time of political divisiveness.

Zealot Canticles is based on Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka’s Twelve Canticles for the Zealot, a set of poems that looks at fanaticism. In this interview, Nally talks about Soyinka’s work, why Lansing McLoskey was uniquely suited to write this piece, and about the music itself.

Audio production by Nikhil Sarma.

The Crossing’s new album Zealot Canticles is out now on Innova Recordings. Click here for more information.

Third Coast Percussion Premieres Philip Glass’s ‘Perpetulum’

by Maggie Molloy

Left to right: David Skidmore, Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, and Peter Martin.

For the past half-century Philip Glass’s music has permeated not only the classical sphere but also the broader pop music consciousness. From operas to film scores to symphonies and string quartets, he has written music for just about every occasion and instrumentation—except for the percussion ensemble.

Until now, that is. Perpetulum, Glass’s first and only piece for percussion ensemble, receives its Pacific Northwest premiere this Sunday in the hands of Third Coast Percussion. Presented as part of the Town Music series, the concert features the much-anticipated percussion premiere alongside a handful of the ensemble’s own Glass-inspired works.

In this interview, Third Coast ensemble member and Executive Director David Skidmore gives us a sneak peek behind the scenes of the creation and performance of Glass’s Perpetulum.

Audio production by Dacia Clay.
Music from Philip Glass’s Perpetulum, performed by Third Coast Percussion and recorded on Orange Mountain Music.

Third Coast Percussion performs Perpetulum this Sunday, April 7 at 6pm at Nordstrom Recital Hall. For tickets and more information, click here.

The Sound of One Man Cooking: Nat Evans’ Music for Daily Life

by Dacia Clay

Composer Nat Evans makes music with practical applications—music you can use in your daily life and music inspired by his own. As a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, this is to be expected: Zen is all about being with what is, allowing life to unfold as it will. And what unfolds in Evan’s latest work is music to cook by.

Evans grows much of his own food (he started a community garden this past year), and he loves cooking to music. His latest work, Two Functions in Three Dimensions, is a soundtrack for others to cook by—a meditative, atmospheric audio framework to aid in being present in the kitchen. In this interview, he talks about Zen, about his own meditation practice, and about why the quotidian is his creative inspiration.

Interview and audio production by Dacia Clay.

Percussion as Revolution: Relaunching the Cornish Percussion Ensemble

by Maggie Molloy

In 1938, while working at Cornish College of the Arts, John Cage formed the Cage Percussion Players: a group credited with presenting the first full-length concert dedicated entirely to percussion ensemble music in the Western classical tradition.

This year, Cornish faculty members Kerry O’Brien and Greg Campbell are picking up the mantle, assembling a new group of music students to build upon the ensemble’s 80-year legacy.

Video by Daniel Husser.

The new Cornish Percussion Ensemble debuts this Saturday with a performance of music by Jessie Marino, Elliot Cole, Sarah Hennies, Alessandro Rovegno, and Greg Campbell. Also on the program is David Lang’s ruminative little eye, scored for cello and four “non-percussionists” and featuring cellist Ha-Yang Kim.

Paradoxically, the notion of “non-percussionists” is central to the musical ethos of the group. We talked with co-directors O’Brien and Campbell (who are both classically-trained percussionists) about the past, present, and future of percussion at Cornish.

Second Inversion: What makes the ensemble’s history unique?

Kerry O’Brien, co-director of the Cornish Percussion Ensemble.

Kerry O’Brien: It was the first institutional group of its kind! The Cage Percussion Players’ first concert at Cornish (December 1938) was historic in being a full-length concert dedicated entirely to percussion ensemble music. In addition to their three concerts at Cornish, they toured the western United States, performing works for percussion ensemble. The group was also unique in that it originally included non-percussionists, which is true still today.

SI: How does working with non-percussionists inform the music of the group?

KO: It’s actually part of the legacy of the ensemble. When Cage first formed the group, it included his then-wife Xenia Cage, Cornish Eurythmics instructor Doris Dennison, and Cornish pianist Margaret Jansen. Today our group has a mix of percussionists and non-percussionist composers interested in writing for percussion. The ensemble is a great way to have hands-on experience with many instruments, and a few students are actively writing for percussion over the course of the semester.

Greg Campbell, co-director of the Cornish Percussion Ensemble.

SI: How long was the ensemble’s hiatus?

Greg Campbell: From what we can gather, there have been a few breaks in the ensemble’s 80+ year history. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, percussionist Matt Kocmieroski led the ensemble regularly and then more sporadically until 2011. So it’s now been eight years since the ensemble was active. 

SI: What made you want to relaunch the ensemble?

GC: Kerry and I share not only years of experience in the world of classical percussion music but also scholarly inquiry into revolutionary musico-political artists and movements. It was during his Cornish years that Cage famously said, “Percussion music is revolution.”

Some 80 years later, percussion ensemble music is widespread, but we hope to invoke the revolutionary spirit of those earlier times not only by performing pieces from that earlier era by Cage, Johanna Beyer, and others, but to honor their work by encouraging members of the ensemble and Cornish community to compose new works for the group.

The Cornish Percussion Ensemble performs this Saturday, March 2 at 6pm at the Jack Straw Cultural Center. For more information, click here.

The Old New Traditions of Ken Thomson’s ‘Sextet’

by Dacia Clay

Photo by Naomi White.

Clarinetist, saxophonist, and composer Ken Thomson is probably best known for his work in the Bang on a Can All-Stars, an amplified chamber ensemble known for championing contemporary classical and experimental sounds. But his recent album of original compositions, Sextet, brings the jazzier side of Thomson to the fore.

The album gives a respectful nod and handshake to jazz forebears like Davis, Brubeck, and Mingus and to jazz’s improvisational structures —but Thomson’s ear for experimentation takes those things in a new direction. In this interview, he talks about overcoming the duality of classical and jazz worlds, exploring the lineage of Western music, and finding his own voice.

Audio production by Nikhil Sarma with production assistance by Dacia Clay.

Ken Thomson’s Sextet is out now on New Focus/Panoramic Recordings. Click here to listen to the album.