This is the fifth and final movement of the LIgNEouS Suite, a work that I’ve been developing and working on since 2010. Andy Akiho is one of my closest friends – both personally and artistically. We met in grad school in 2009 – I remember him coming up to me after a class that we had together, introducing himself, and then inviting me to a concert he was performing that weekend at a sushi restaurant.
I went to the concert, and my jaw hit the floor after watching him for just a couple of minutes. Andy is a steel drum player – and before I went to that concert, I thought I had some idea of what the steel drum could do. Andy completely shattered those expectations – he is one of those once-in-a-generation performers who transcends their instrument entirely. I knew that I had to get to know this guy, and that I had to play his music.
Not too long after, I got my chance. Andy had a performance on the contemporary music series at our school, and a friend of mine needed a sub to play for him. I stepped in, and performed NO one To kNOW one for the first time. Since then, I’ve performed nearly every work that Andy has written that has a percussion part.
In the summer of 2010, Andy wrote LIgNEouS I for the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. I didn’t give the world premiere performance, but the following year, I put a string quartet together in school to learn and perform the piece. We spent most of the year on it – it was so challenging for us to put together – and we got to perform it several times that year, as well as make a recording of it.
Since then, it’s become one of my most-performed pieces – I think I’ve given more than 50 performances of it. But Andy wasn’t finished with marimba and string quartet yet. A few years later, he let me know that he was working on a second slow movement to pair with the fast, energetic first movement. Then, one day he just opened up his computer and showed me the completed third movement – a kind of scherzo that I didn’t even know he was working on.
A few years after that, Chamber Music Northwest asked if they could commission a concluding fourth movement to the suite. They did, and Andy wrote a movement – another slow movement! So, we returned to CMNW two summers later to perform the completed five-movement suite.
This is a video of the concluding movement with the sensational Dover Quartet. I feel fortunate every single time I get to stand on stage with them – they are incredibly rare musicians who are equally effective and expressive no matter what kind of music they are playing, from Akiho to Mozart to Brahms. This last movement is dedicated to them.