By the time the four of us in Third Coast Percussion were studying music in college, the percussion ensemble was a part of nearly every percussionist’s education. While the music written by John Cage, Lou Harrison, and Steve Reich remained an important part of the repertoire, decades of commissioning by professional and collegiate ensembles had given risen to new works by Iannis Xenakis, Gerard Grisey, Toru Takemitsu, Christopher Rouse, Michael Colgrass, and numerous others, including many percussionists writing for their own friends and colleagues.
By this time in our lives, Philip Glass’s music was already deeply ingrained in the culture. We had been hearing Glass’s music for years, and moreover, his influence could be heard in music across many genres. It was all around us, and as we began composing our own music, that music was inevitably shaped—directly and indirectly—by Glass’s work.
Like Glass (and Reich and Cage), we formed our own ensemble to create the artistic path we wanted to pursue. Professional percussion ensembles were still rare, but not unheard of in 2005. Nonetheless, there were none hiring; we had to form our own. From the beginning, commissioning new percussion pieces was a vital part of our work. We’re very proud of the contributions to the repertoire that have come from our collaborations with Augusta Read Thomas, David T. Little, Glenn Kotche, Devonté Hynes, and dozens of other brilliant composers, many of which were made possible with the support of the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.
This process of building the percussion repertoire has always been driven in part by the nagging awareness that many of our favorite composers—artists who made us fall in love with concert music in the first place—never wrote a percussion ensemble piece. How different would the modern percussion ensemble look if Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, and Aaron Copland had each written a percussion quartet in their lives? As Third Coast Percussion celebrated its 10-year anniversary, and our momentum as an ensemble and as an artistic organization continued to grow, we realized that we may have the ability to commission the first percussion quartet from some of the giants of today’s music world.
Philip Glass was at the top of that list. It seemed amazing that despite his prolific career of 11 symphonies, dozens of operas, music for film and television, and numerous solo, vocal and chamber works, he had never composed a percussion ensemble work. We’re honored and humbled that he accepted our commission, and grateful to the many individuals and institutions that made this work possible. Glass has spoken about how in writing this new work, Perpetulum, he hearkened back to his time playing percussion as a young student. The work blends an almost child-like exploration of the sounds of percussion with Glass’s signature musical voice. It is a work which stands out for its joyful sound and (somehow!) youthful exuberance.
We are even more thrilled that the collaboration with Mr. Glass revealed to us a kind, humble individual who is still deeply engaged and delighted with music-making at 81 years old, despite his international superstar status. Glass was in touch with us in the course of composing this work and our process of learning it, listening to renditions of each version and making revisions. He happily engaged in conversations with us about tempos and specific instrumentation choices. Perhaps most exciting, Glass left a moment between the second and third sections of Perpetulum for a cadenza, a first in our dozens of commissioned works. He gave some suggestions for possible instrumentation and character but ultimately left it to us to create our cadenza based on themes from the work and our own interpretation of Glass’s music and its influence on our own.
We approached this cadenza with some ideas of what we love most about Glass’s music, and a couple of us in the ensemble proposed what the very beginning of the cadenza might sound like, based on what comes immediately before it in the piece. We read through these possibilities together as a quartet and discussed them, and then a different member of the group volunteered to make the first pass at writing a full cadenza based on elements of these two proposed beginnings. This process mirrors the method we’ve used in some other recent projects, where we collaboratively composed or arranged works as a quartet.
We chose to create a cadenza that was completely composed and notated. Other performers may choose to improvise some or all of theirs. One of the most fascinating parts of any commission is seeing what other performers do with the work after the premiere. Of course, not every work gets even a second performance, much less a performance by a second performer. In the case of Philip Glass’s first percussion quartet, however, percussion quartets around the world are sure to perform this piece. We hope that our efforts in commissioning and collaborating on this work will add something special to percussion ensembles for generations to come.
Perpetulum by Philip Glass was commissioned for Third Coast Percussion with lead support from the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation. The work was co-commissioned by Elizabeth and Justus Schlichting for Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Bravo! Vail Music Festival, San Francisco Performances, Town Hall Seattle, Performance Santa Fe, the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, and the Third Coast Percussion New Works Fund, with additional support from Friedrich Burian, Bruce Oltman, MiTO Settembre Musica, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series, and the Percussive Arts Society.
An Evening of Chamber Music:
Philip Glass, Tim Fain, and Third Coast Percussion
Composer Philip Glass performs an intimate duet evening of chamber music with dynamic young violinist Tim Fain in an all-Glass program featuring works for solo piano, solo violin, and duets featuring both musicians and, in a triumphant conclusion to their 2012–2017 tenure as Ensemble-in-Residence, Grammy winners Third Coast Percussion premiere the work Perpetulum at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.
Saturday, March 30, 2019, at 7:30 p.m.