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Third Coast Percussion Celebrates John Cage's Centennial

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on May 24, 2012 7:40PM

Photo courtesy of Third Coast Percussion

Chicago-based percussion ensemble Third Coast Percussion is one of our favorite rising stars of the local new-music scene, although they get put into the modern/contemporary genre by default; Western composers didn’t really write works for only percussion until the 20th century, with French-born American composer Edgard Varèse’s 1933 Ionisation generally recognized as the first.

John Cage, whose centennial is this year, wasn’t far behind. Before he moved into chance and conceptual territory (his most famous piece is 4'33", wherein the performer is directed to be silent for the titular length of time), Cage wrote linear, notated music that was relatively within the modernist tradition of his teachers, Arnold Schoenberg and Henry Cowell. Many of these initial forays into the avant-garde were experiments with percussion; Quartet, Cage’s first percussion piece, was written in 1935, and he wrote 16 more in the next eight years. Selections from this early period make up The Works for Percussion 2 (available on CD and DVD), Third Coast’s contribution to Mode Records’ compilation of Cage’s entire body of work roughly timed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the composer's birth.

Tomorrow night, Third Coast will put on a concert to celebrate the album's recent release. The group will perform three works from the disc, including the aforementioned Quartet (the piece, written for unspecified percussion instruments, is featured on Third Coast's iPhone app that lets you construct your own version of the last movement using either pre-recorded or your own samples) as well as Second Construction and Third Construction. Friday’s program also includes Credo in Us, written for percussion, piano (played surprisingly well at the Cultural Center last December by Third Coast’s Peter Martin), live radio, and recorded samples; and Radio Music, composed relatively lately (1956) using chance techniques for four radios. Third Coast will also play an excerpt from Renga: Cage 100, a piece they’re assembling themselves using contributions of “a sound, a musical idea, or some other prescribed performance or activity” from 100 different composers (read here for more details). Renga: Cage 100 will receive its full premiere at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in August.

For more information on Cage, check out Third Coast’s info-packed blog.

Friday at 8:00 p.m., Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse, $20 reserved, $15 general