In our New Work Development Program, we draw from our years of experience as percussionists and composers, experimenting alongside composers, stage directors, and choreographers to imagine percussion from the ground up—traditional percussion instruments optional.
The premieres that result from these collaborations reinvent what classical music can and will be. Explore our process in the video below.
Projects within our New Work Development Program are supported at three key stages:
- Experimentation, exploration, and workshop time;
- Sharing projects through prominent premieres;
- Placing compositions in the contemporary music repertoire through long-term touring, album releases, and more.
Contact Shelby@sopercussion.com to learn more about New Work Development and the program’s Producing Circle.
Andrew W. Siegel Fellowship
The Andrew W. Siegel Composition Fellowship honors an emerging composer every two years whose work demonstrates extraordinary promise, and who will be showcased through a world premiere by Sō Percussion. The Fellowship provides a prestigious turning point for its composers, offering them the opportunity to experiment with percussion in new ways. Each Siegel Fellow receives two years’ worth of rehearsal, workshop, and incubation time with Sō’s performers, culminating in a premiere.
Our 2020-2021 Fellow is Brooklyn born Haitian-American flutist, composer, and vocalist Nathalie Joachim. Nathalie has won widespread acclaim for her superb work as a soloist and chamber musician (with Eighth Blackbird and Flutronix) and, increasingly, for her compelling and nuanced original compositions. This season she writes a major new work for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and for her duo, Flutronix, she creates Discourse, a music and social change initiative exploring American history, commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts. Joachim’s Fanm d’Ayiti (Women of Haiti) is an evening-length work for flute, voice, string quartet, and electronics. Celebrating some of Haiti’s most important yet under-recognized female artists, Fanm d’Ayiti, released by New Amsterdam Records in a recording by Joachim and the Spektral Quartet, is a 2020 nominee for Best World Music Album.
Click here to read the full Andrew W. Siegel Fellowship announcement.
I’m thrilled at the opportunity to collaborate with Sō Percussion in this way! It’s been a delight to get to know them through my work as a performer, and I’m looking forward to expanding that relationship as a composer. Their skill as an ensemble goes without saying, but I’m particularly excited to tap into their unparalleled willingness to co-create boundary defying work with composers.
-Nathalie Joachim, ’20-21 Andrew W. Siegel Composition Fellow
The Composition Fellowship continues Andrew W. Siegel’s commitment to Sō Percussion and its emphasis on bold new works. Most recently, Siegel commissioned Vijay Iyer’s Torque, which was written for Sō Percussion in 2018. He served as a lead supporter of Sō Percussion’s evening-length project Where (We) Live in 2012. Siegel, JD, PhD, is a Research Scholar in the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. He has served as Staff Philosopher for President Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission, Legislative Fellow for Senator Edward M. Kennedy and the Labor and Human Resources Committee, and Staff Attorney for the Task Force on Genetic Testing of the Working Group on the Ethical, Legal and Social Issues of the Human Genome Project.
Does a piece of music consist of the abstract ideas which animate it? Is it about the exact sounds a composer hears in their mind’s ear? Can it just be notes and rhythms, or even a blueprint for construction?
When Sō Percussion found ourselves quarantined in our home studios in 2020, we had to examine these questions with new urgency because we couldn’t get into a room together to play percussion quartets. As we started new remote collaborations, we realized that the music we produced during this time would need to have maximum flexibility to work with whatever each of us had lying around.
In the spring of 2020, we produced a re-imagining of band member Jason Treuting’s amid the noise for video, which was initially composed for what we call “flexible instrumentation.” All this means is that various melodies, rhythms, and textures can be assembled and interpreted depending on the group who plays them. A version of amid the noise would be possible with a string quartet, a wind band, an ensemble of various instruments from around the world, a percussion ensemble, a kazoo choir, etc…
This piece was in turn influenced by avant-garde works like Terry Riley’s In C. We found that music by composers such as Pauline Oliveros, John Cage, and Julius Eastman already provided a model for how to work this way, and that we have always been more interested in percussion as a realm of openness and exploration than as a menagerie of instruments.
After conducting our Sō Percussion Summer Institute as a virtual seminar in July 2020, we decided to initiate a new commissioning program of new works for flexible forces. These works could be realized in remote collaboration and in real life; they could involve the members of Sō Percussion but could perhaps open us up to broader collaborations. The flexibility allows each participant to bring their own unique voice to the table, lowering barriers of inclusion based on particular types of training or obtaining access to specific instruments.
Our first cohort of composers are all creators whom we’ve met through the laboratories of our educational programs at the Sō Percussion Summer Institute and our role as performers-in-residence at Princeton University: Darian Thomas, Bora Yoon, and Kendall Williams. Each will write a piece which Sō Percussion will realize using our skills and instruments, but which we will then offer in other contexts such as concert residencies or our summer program. Students and other collaborators will be able to engage with us and concoct their own unique versions.
We are really looking forward to what these projects can and will be and hope to provide accessibility, diversity, and great music for everyone. We would so appreciate your consideration in supporting us as a co-commissioner within our New Works Development Program! If you’d like to be involved, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sō Percussion was founded in 1999 on a handful of existing pieces, believing that the greatest works in our field had not yet been written. Since then, we have been dedicated to commissioning new works from the most exciting composers of our time, many of them American.
In addition, a lot of new music by our own members has made its way onto our recital programs, and we have entered into fascinating collaborations with singers, composers, electronic artists, and much in between.
The next generation of new repertoire for Sō Percussion is taking shape! Julia Wolfe’s new quartet Forbidden Love will be featured at Carnegie Hall December of 2019. The sub-genre of music for “mallet quartet” (two vibraphones, two marimbas) which kicked off with Steve Reich’s Sō Percussion commission Mallet Quartet in 2009, takes flight with astonishing new pieces by Vijay Iyer, Donnacha Dennehy, and our own Jason Treuting. We deepen our collaboration with Caroline Shaw in Narrow Sea, as well as an entire new album of collaborative songs. Angélica Negrón draws us into her world of percussion robots, while our longtime collaborator Suzanne Farrin’s new work A diamond in the square gathers the four of us around the inside of a piano.
Our newest major commission is Julia Wolfe’s Forbidden Love, a string quartet (two violins, viola, cello), written for Sō Percussion. Says Wolfe: “The beautiful thing about Sō is that they are so open, so collaborative, full of adventure and can-do attitude. Together we discovered and drew out beautiful ethereal and crunchy sounds from this iconic quartet of instruments. In the process I developed a very personal new language (boings, szhings, hammering, and more).”
Suzanne Farrin: a diamond in the square
Suzanne is a longtime collaborator of So’s, ever since we were in graduate school together. Her latest piece for us places the four members of So all around the inside of the piano as a “communal loom.” We thread through the strings, strike them with implements, and mute them, creating a rich sound texture.
Below is a piece she wrote for Jason years ago, in a terrific student performance from SoSI 2019.
One of our favorite recent collaborations is with the Pulitzer-prize winning composer Caroline Shaw, which also involves the legendary soprano Dawn Upshaw and pianist Gil Kalish.
We first came together with Upshaw and Kalish to perform George Crumb’s massive song cycle Winds of Destiny. Out of this collaboration, we decided to commission a new work for the six of us. Upshaw was the featured artist for the Music Accord project (an association of music presenters who collaborate every year on commissioning new works). When she approached us about this new piece, the first composer who came to mind was Caroline Shaw.
The work that resulted, Narrow Sea, is a heartbreaking and intimate exploration of the themes of the wanderer and the refugee. As with Crumb, the songs are sourced from American folk traditions, forming an entire program that explores American songs and hymns with percussion.
We recorded Narrow Sea, along with Shaw’s percussion quartet Taxidermy, this past summer. During the recording session for “Narrow Sea,” Caroline and Sō Percussion spent an extra day in the studio experimenting with new material. In one afternoon, we made something we loved so much that we decided to come back to Guilford Sound in Vermont again to record others.
Ideas flourished from each of our corners. Sometimes Caroline supplied chord progressions for us to improvise and elaborate on. Other times, Jason or Eric from Sō brought fully composed instrumental pieces which Caroline created vocal parts for. At one point, we even decided that Caroline would record duos with each of the four members of Sō Percussion, but each pair would have no more than an hour to create the song and record it. This resulted in unexpected magic when Caroline and Adam Sliwinski concocted a multi-layered motet of ABBA’s “Lay All Your Love On Me” for marimba and voice, or when she and Eric Cha-Beach combined medieval plainchant with “I’ll Fly Away” over ethereal drones.
For the larger pieces, Sō built orchestrations in layers of keyboard instruments, “found” percussion sounds, drums, and steel drums. Some lyrics for Caroline’s vocals came from her own invention, others came from members of Sō, and some were even lifted out of James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” which Adam was reading at the time of the sessions.
Few collaborations between composer and ensemble have yielded such a diverse and surprising collection of music. These two projects exemplify the spirit of expansive creativity which makes those labels only a starting point for what is possible.
Dan Trueman/JACK Quartet: Songs That Are Hard to Sing
Songs That Are Hard To Sing is unlike anything we have ever done. It combines the supernatural abilities of the JACK Quartet with our own eclectic curiosity. Trueman’s description below captures it perfectly. The piece was premiered at Carnegie Hall in March of 2018, and will be released on New Amsterdam Records in November of 2019.
“In the process of writing this piece for possibly the most incredible contemporary music band imaginable—Sō Percussion and the JACK Quartet… combined!—I found myself thinking about ‘songs’ in all of their mysterious and wonderful facets. While I think most of these pieces will be hard or impossible to sing, my hope is that they feel like songs in various ways, like something we might be able to sing in a parallel universe, or, most ambitious, leave us wanting to sing them, even if we can’t. Perhaps Yeats was on to something when, in his penultimate poem Cuchulain Comforted, he tells us ‘Now we must sing and sing the best we can…. Or driven from home and left to die in fear.’
Now, about the band. Sō Percussion has broadened the notion of “percussion” so far that I tend to think of them as four amazing musicians who can do just about anything I ask them. Here, two of them play bitKlavier, a ‘prepared digital piano’ inspired by Cage that I’ve been coding up for the last few years with fellow hacker/musician Mike Mulshine. One of the beauties of bitKlavier is that we can tune it up however we want, and have that tuning change as we play. Here, it’s mostly tuned to the overtones of C-Major, though we hear it drift from there at times (including the very opening of the first song, which gradually and strangely sinks flat). Similarly, I’ve asked JACK, which is the most tuning-sensitive ensemble I’ve ever encountered, to tune up their instruments to a big beautiful C-Major chord; you’d think that would be simple to deal with, but it turns out to be magnificently complicated, and even more-so when they play with the changeable bitKlavier—don’t try this at home! Or, maybe do!”
Buke and Gase
Our collaboration with Buke and Gase began at the Ecstatic Music Festival in New York in 2014. Since they perform on custom-designed instruments – “Buke” is baritone ukulele, “Gase” is a hybrid guitar/bass – it wasn’t difficult to find common ground. Buke and Gase also love to experiment with complex overlapping rhythmic loops, which only helped!
We’ve just recorded a new album together, and we’ve had performances in New York, at the Big Ears Festival in Tennessee, and the Walker Art Museum.
Here’s our set from the premiere on New Sounds Live at the Ecstatic Music Festival: March 26th, 2014 at Merkin Concert Hall. Our combined performance starts at about 1:13 into the show.
Carnegie Hall, as part of their “125” commissioning project, sponsored a new work for Sō Percussion and Shara Nova called Timeline. Timeline represents the first occasion on which Sō Percussion and Shara have worked together. We’ve admired her work for many years, both as My Brightest Diamond and on works such as David Lang’s Death Speaks. Shara’s haunting voice and penetrating verses explore the subject of time, and as such provide Timeline as a kind of companion piece to Steven Mackey’s It Is Time.
Working with Shara was one of those moments of instant chemistry for us: she is a consummate, almost frighteningly gifted musician. She handles our typically quirky rhythmic layers with grace, but then adds a lyricism and emotional depth that makes our mutual exploration come to life.
So Percussion’s third studio album was Jason Treuting’s Amid the Noise, which has become one of our most popular albums. We frequently present residencies of Amid the Noise around the world where we involve students and local musicians in large group realizations of the work. Jason’s newest project is a sprawling series of nine pieces called Nine Numbers. Nine Numbers Four is a mallet quartet for So which is part of our “Keyboard Reimagined” program.