Review: Third Coast Percussion Commemorates 400 Years of Zildjian Cymbals
Third Coast Percussion commemorated a 400-year anniversary with the help of composer and percussionist Michael J. Burritt, who was their professor 20 years ago at Northwestern University. Burritt, who has since moved on, received a commission from the Avedis Zildjian Cymbal Company to write a 30-minute work for percussion quartet to celebrate that company’s 400th anniversary. The result was Since Time Began¸ a four-movement work that TCP performed on Tuesday night at Gannon Auditorium on the campus of DePaul University.
As typically happens at a Third Coast Percussion performance, confronting the audience was a stage full of noisemaking stuff. On Tuesday there were three drum kits, various other drums and cymbals, pipes, crotales, a glass bowl half-filled with water, marimbas, vibraphones, a glockenspiel, and drumsticks and mallets of every description. TCP performances require movement between the instruments; the equipment is carefully placed and the choreography is worked out in advance.
The concert opened with several pieces, mainly centered around keyboard mallet instruments. First was an adaptation of “Hero” by Clarice Assad, which came from Archetypes, an amazing release they did with Assad’s father, guitarist Sérgio Assad. The original features lovely guitar playing by the elder Assad, which had to be incorporated into the percussion quartet format on Tuesday. The work was performed largely on marimbas, vibraphones, and a drum kit.
Following this were three movements from the Situations Suite, a five-movement work for mallet quartet by Macahado Mijiga. This Portland-based musician produces, composes, teaches, and plays many instruments. He is currently serving as Musical Everyman for the Portland-based super group Portugal. The Man. Situations Suite is a Third Coast Percussion commission.
“Sorcery” started out quietly on two marimbas, and gradually increased as each player joined in on vibraphones. Interesting melodies came through, with overtones from the vibraphones coloring everything. It started as it began. They quickly moved into “Treachery,” which featured the marimbas played by hands and not mallets. “Mastery” quickened up the pace. It was a very short, interesting excursion.
Up next was Death Wish by Gemma Peacocke, a great piece that was inspired by a survivor of sexual assault. TCP plays it a lot, including in September, when they introduced their newest release Between Breaths, which includes Death Wish. Released by Cedille Records, Between Breaths has been nominated for a Grammy Award. As in September, Tuesday’s performance was great.
Turning to Since Time Began, Avedis Zildjian founded his company in Constantinople in 1623 with the permission of the Ottoman Sultan Mustafa I. In addition to being one of oldest, continuously operated companies in the world, Zildjian has been a fixture in cymbal and percussion manufacturing. Just as remarkable, it has remained a family enterprise. During most of the past 400 years, it was based in Constantinople. In the 20th century it moved around, eventually settling in Norwell, Massachusetts. Burritt separated the 400 years into 100-year increments and wrote a movement for each of those 100-year periods.
The piece opened majestically and mysteriously with David Skidmore and Peter Martin entering separately from stage right, and Robert Dillon and Sean Connors entering from the back of the auditorium. They were carrying and hammering on large pipes cut from fenceposts.
As the first movement Alchemy (1623) progressed, melodies on marimbas and vibraphones soon took over with musical phrases denoting Avedis and his son. The progression of musical phrases was inspired by the baroque counterpoint being made around Europe during this 100-year period.
One thing missing from the aural mix was a Zildjian cymbal. In the second movement Campana (bells) (1723), action shifted to the drum kits, and Zildjian cymbals featured prominently. TCP also returned to the pipes from the opening movement, in reference to church bells that Zildjian made at the time. Inspired by classical forms that were predominant in European music at that time, Burritt used what he calls a pseudo rondo form. TCP’s playing was so intense, when the movement abruptly finished, I gasped—always a good sign.
Up to this point, Since Time Began was played at a fast pace. Homage (1823) slowed things down a bit, with a return to the marimbas and vibraphones. Paying tribute to the Romantic age in music, there were also vocalizations around the Turkish folk song, Agla garip agla (Weep, sad one, weep). It offered a vey nice contrast.
The final movement, Revelations (1923), added a lot of choreography to TCP’s performance, as they quickly move from instrument to instrument. It highlighted musical trends from the last 100 years in Jazz, popular music, and contemporary classical.
Since Time Began was a great way to end the concert. Afterwards, I marveled at how appropriate it was to celebrate 400 years of percussion manufacturing with a percussion quartet as distinguished as Third Coast Percussion. The performance lived up to all expectations.
Third Coast Percussion’s next Chicago-area concert is Friday, January 19, 2024, when they’ll be performing the music of Carlos Carrillo. Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, 4046 W. Armitage St, Chicago, 7:30 pm. For more information, click here.
A lover of music his whole life, Louis Harris has written extensively from the early days of punk and alternative rock. More recently he has focused on classical music, especially chamber ensembles. He has reviewed concerts, festivals, and recordings and has interviewed composers and performers. He has paid special attention to Chicago’s rich and robust contemporary art music scene. He occasionally writes poetry and has a published novel to his credit, 32 Variations on a Theme by Basil II in the Key of Washington, DC. He now lives on the north side of Chicago, which he considers to be the greatest city in the country, if not the world. Member of the Music Critics Association of North America.