Sandbox Percussion has been in LA the last week performing and working with percussion and composition students at a bunch of different schools, but the real reason we’re here is for a performance tomorrow night that celebrates the music of one of our closest friends and collaborators, Thomas Kotcheff.
Thomas is a really, really talented guy. I first met him in undergraduate school at Peabody – we had an aural skills class together (side note – our teacher was the world-class violinist Courtney Orlando). At the time, he was a piano major. We lost touch as we went our separate ways after Peabody, but I ran into him again – this time as a composer – at the 2012 Norfolk Summer Chamber Music Festival. He wrote two excellent pieces for the festival, but the one that really struck me was the piece that would later become hammer/ring:
This piece is really fun to play…it’s just technically hard enough that you need to stay on your toes the whole way through, and the rhythmic interaction between the four parts works so well. But more than anything, I think this piece is brilliant because it jumps so rapidly between intensity and playfulness. One second you’re hammering away violently, and then suddenly you drop into beautiful half-time groove.
Fast-forward a few years. Sandbox is getting ready to play at the DiMenna Center with Kettle Corn New Music. This was the kickoff to our 2014/15 NY season, and it was one of our first shows right in the middle of midtown Manhattan. We could have programmed hammer/ring, but Thomas wrote us earlier that summer to tell us that he was in the middle of writing a table-top-sized piece for us. He finished it just in the nick of time, and we premiered Part and Parcel at Kettle Corn. Part and Parcel (or PaPa as we call it) has become a go-to piece for us….we’ve played it many times every season since.
A little while after that, we met up with Justin Sergi (another wildly talented and inventive creator from Peabody). He had a idea for a new series of videos that would not only showcase performances that he cares about, but also would open a little doorway into the process of creating a piece. He wanted us to open our studio to him, talk with both us and Thomas about the piece, and then film us performing it. It was a pretty silly day (both Thomas and I were extremely jetlagged and most of it is just a blur), but Justin came out of it with this. It remains one of my favorite videos that we’ve ever put out.
While we will play both of these pieces at the show on Friday, the main event is the world premiere of Thomas’ third percussion quartet – Not only that one but that one & that too. It’s a huge piece – over 27 minutes and three movements on different instrumental setups. The first movement is all wooden instruments. It starts off with an extended clave jam session – Thomas has invented a whole language of clave techniques for us to use (I never thought I would be practicing claves). The second movement is all about drums. We each have a similar but not identical setup, and Thomas uses a clever series of metric modulations to move the music forwards and backwards in intensity and speed. This movement also features an even more hip half-time groove than the one in hammer/ring! Finally, the third movement uses a bunch of tuned metal instruments – glock bars, pipes, desk bells, and temple bowls. All in all, it’s a stunning piece, and a serious addition to the percussion quartet repertoire.
As I’ve mentioned, Thomas is also a pianist, and his killer piano duo HOCKET will play a short work of his on Friday as well. We will also give the world premiere of all roads are near for cello and percussion quartet, PLUS everyone on stage will rock out to a short piece by Andy Akiho.
Thomas is a special guy – he’s that rare blend of incredibly talented artist and all-around awesome person. I can think of no better way to celebrate his achievements than with a program that features a ton of his music.
This all goes down tomorrow night (October 28) at 8pm at the California Percussion LA warehouse. If you’re in the LA area – you should come. If you’re not, we’re taping the whole show and there just *might* be a streaming link on Facebook. Stay tuned….