The Ethos Percussion Group made their concert Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater a lesson in how to turn serious modern compositions into something inviting. Pieces that might have sounded daunting if played, say, on a piano, had the audience up and cheering.
The group, whose appearance was sponsored by the Washington Performance Arts Society, presented works by disparate composers, ranging from John Cage to Frank Zappa.
"Double Music," by Cage and Lou Harrison, is the sort of minimalist piece that seeks to strip music down to its essential elements, but the propulsive beat lent by a variety of rhythm instruments kept it from bogging down in its repetitive phrases.
The often informal array of surfaces that the group banged their sticks and fingers against also helped to demystify sometimes challenging material. "Yes, we do shop at Home Depot for some of our instruments," said Yousif Sheronick after a piece that had band-mate Eric Phinney spanking a long plastic tube with something that resembled a Ping-Pong paddle.
None of the members of the group, which also features Joseph Gramley and Michael Sgouros, offered an outstanding solo, but the ensemble as a whole was remarkably disciplined and cohesive. In terms of programming balance, Ethos too often featured compositions that moved from slow, meditative openings to thundery finishes designed to get the heart racing, like music underscoring a movie chase scene.