Sō Percussion at RNCM

Johnny James, Managing Editor

Sō Percussion at Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), Manchester 20 November 2018 Tickets from £18 — Book now

Think of an object which makes a noise when you hit it. At one time or another, you can guarantee that it’s found its way into the hands of Sō Percussion. A New York-based quartet of virtuosos, this ensemble is all about innovation and re-invention. During the course of their RNCM concert, you will see them play on house-hold objects such as flower pots, as well as brand new instruments like the chord stick (which we’ll explain later). For this concert, they’ve put together a wonderful programme, ranging from Steve Reich to Caroline Shaw to The National’s Bryce Dessner. For Sō Percussion’s final piece – in fact a suite of pieces by the quartet’s very own Jason Treuting – the ensemble will be joined by some of RNCM’s own percussion students.

Steve Reich – Music For Pieces of Wood

In the economy of its instrumentation, Steve Reich’s 1978 piece ‘Music For Pieces of Wood’ is often compared to his better-known ‘Clapping Music’. As in ‘Clapping Music’, the piece is based on the process of rhythmic build-ups and shifts. Requiring five players, each playing a pair of claves, the piece employs an additive progression which evolves over the course of three sections. A pattern is laid out, and then is changed, and changed again, until we have 58 shifts of pattern within 10 minutes. These subtle shifts create a rhythmic and metric discourse of surprising complexity.

Caroline Shaw – Taxidermy

At the age of 30, Caroline Shaw was the youngest ever recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music. She won the prize in 2013 for her ‘Partita for Eight Voices’. This was just the start of her musical career, though, and in recent years the vocalist and string player has written a number of celebrated and adventurous works, including string quartet ‘Entr’acte’ and solo piano piece ‘Gustave Le Gray’. Back in 2012, Shaw wrote a piece especially for Sō Percussion. ‘Taxidermy’ is a percussion quartet scored for flower pots, and aims to evoke the sound world of Javanese Gamelan.

Bryce Dessner – Music For Wood and Strings

Best known as the guitarist for The National, Bryce Dessner struck a very different chord with his 2015 composition ‘Music For Wood and Strings’. Interestingly, Dessner conceived of not only the music for this piece but also the instrument for which it is scored. His ‘chordstick’ is a cross between a dulcimer and a guitar, and is played by the ensemble with pencils as beaters. After Dessner commissioned the instrument, his first move was to take it to Sō Percussion. He formulated ‘Music For Wood and Strings’ by watching the way that the ensemble played the instrument, learning what could and what could not be done with it. Made up of nine sections, the piece ranges in mood from gentle and meditative to frisky and dance-like.

Jason Treunting – Amid The Noise

2006’s ‘Amid The Noise’ was Sō Percussion’s breakout project of original music. A member of the ensemble, this was the first music that Treunting wrote for any percussion group. It’s a suite of 12 pieces, and it adopts a few meaningful quotes for material and structure. Some elements in the piece are prescribed, and others are left up to the performer, which results in a different experience each time the work is performed. Deftly blending Steve Reich with Brian Eno, Four Tet with Aphex Twin, it’s a patient, visceral work which is deeply hypnotic. During its performance, Sō Percussion will be joined on stage by some of RNCM’s percussion students, who will help bring this wonderful concert to a climactic end.

Sō Percussion at Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), Manchester 20 November 2018 Tickets from £18 Book now

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