So Percussion at Kennedy Center's CrossCurrents Festival of Contemporary Music

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wood blocks, a bowed cymbal and sets of house keys are hardly the most accessible of musical instruments, but an eager crowd spilled well outside the boundaries of the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage seating area Saturday night to hear So Percussion at the CrossCurrents Festival -- and with good reason.

Percussionists Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski and Jason Treuting not only showcased their much-noted virtuosity, but they also provided a well-thought-out introduction to their repertoire. Throughout, they maintained a relaxed, engaging rapport with the audience, wearing jeans and explaining the music informally and concisely, as though describing personal photos.

The concert included selections from the group's original work, "Amid the Noise," which recalled John Cage by placing everyday sounds like radio chatter in the context of cool-toned vibraphone chords, the feedback of the bowed cymbal and the pulsing of wood blocks. The audience was encouraged to shake their keys and whisper, evoking a metallic rainstorm.

Paul Lansky's "Threads," which also incorporated various drums, brought out the melodic qualities and dynamic range of the instruments, from mellow tones that wafted and lingered to tinkling glockenspiel runs and booming unison passages.

Especially compelling was Steve Reich's "Music for Pieces of Wood." Beginning with two musicians playing wood blocks, the work came across as though it were a conversation. One performer stood alongside those "speaking" with his arms folded before joining in, first slowly, interjecting a few notes, and then more rapidly, until the rhythmic patterns overlapped and reflected one another in kaleidoscopic patterns.

-- Ronni Reich

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