Parents, take a deep breath before your scold your little ones about banging on pots, pans and trashcans. They may grow up to be world-renowned percussionists like the four men who comprise So Percussion — Eric Beach, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting and Josh Quillen.
”I did start off banging on things, since around age 8,” says Mr. Treuting. “In the third grade I found a broken drum set that my neighbor was throwing out and I grabbed it. All of us have that background, we’ve always been exploring things, but also involved in formal music programs, school bands and whatnot. It’s a strange mix.”
The Brooklyn-based quartet has grown in reputation, especially in the last 10 years, re-defining the idea of a percussion ensemble. Once something that may have been found only in university music departments, the percussion ensemble has been transformed by So Percussion into a flexible, adventurous, exhilarating entity. They’ve even collaborated with jam band Medeski, Martin and Wood, Wilco’s Glenn Kotche and opened for the rock band The National at New York’s Beacon Theater.
So Percussion has taken the musical baton from composers such as Steve Reich and John Cage, as well as pioneering ensembles like the Kronos Quartet, and passed it along into the 21st century. With 13 albums to their name, a steady output of music, an array of collaborative projects, and numerous educational programs, they deserve the praise by “The New Yorker,” which wrote of their “... blend of precision and anarchy, rigor and bedlam.”
After years of growing a relationship with Princeton University, So Percussion has been named as the new Edward T. Cone Performers-in-Residence. Beginning this academic year, the ensemble will teach graduate and undergraduate students, workshop, rehearse and perform new works by student and faculty composers, coach chamber music, give master classes, and perform two concerts from their touring repertoire each academic year.
In addition, So Percussion will be giving a performance in the East Gallery at Grounds For Sculpture, May 16, their first appearance at the venue.
About the three-year appointment at Princeton University, Mr. Treuting says, “We’re all really excited, it’s an amazing opportunity. We wanted to be involved because what’s going on at Princeton is incredibly interesting. I think we’ll have a great time teaching courses and being in and around the Princeton community.”
"Our first concerts (here) were through the Princeton composition program, performing music by Princeton composers, and we’ve essentially stopped doing this at every other university,” he continues. “We’ve made a lot of ties through the summer program, and we’ve also (enjoyed) big commissions with the composition faculty, including Steve Mackey, Dan Trueman and Paul Lansky.”
Mr. Treuting is referring to the So Percussion Summer Institute, on the campus of Princeton University, which the ensemble created in 2009. The Institute is an intensive two-week chamber music seminar for college-age percussionists, featuring the four members of So Percussion as faculty in rehearsal, performance, and discussion of contemporary music for students from around the world. (The So Percussion Summer Institute 2014 will run July 20-Aug. 3.)
"It draws from all over, maybe as many as 30 states, and we’ve also seen students from Australia, Singapore and Ireland,” Mr. Treuting says. “We’re seeing percussionists of a variety of ages, from recent high school graduates going into college to doctoral candidates. But the main way we’ve interfaced with Princeton is through composers.
"We’ve realized that the most important work we do is collaborating with living composers, and that’s what we want to do with the students,” he adds. “Every year, the first concert has been all works by Princeton University composers. Graduate students sign up every year, and many write new works for the students. We’ve broadened that even more. Students are debuting new pieces of music by really high level composers — it’s a win-win-win thing.”
The founding members of So Percussion first got together as graduate students at the Yale School of Music, when their goal was to present an exciting repertoire of pieces by famed 20th-century composers such as Mr. Cage, Mr. Reich, and Iannis Xenakis. An encounter with David Lang, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and co-founder of New York’s Bang on a Can organization, yielded their first commissioned piece, the 36-minute, three-movement, the so-called laws of nature. The quartet has gone on to commission works by some of the top living American composers, including Mr. Mackey and Mr. Lansky.