Josh Quillen has forged a unique identity in the contemporary music world as all-around percussionist, expert steel drum performer (lauded as “softly sophisticated” by the New York Times), and composer. His collaborations with other composers frequently incorporate the steel drums as a core element.
A member of the acclaimed ensemble Sō Percussion since 2006, Josh has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Lincoln Center Festival, Stanford Lively Arts, and dozens of other venues in the United States. In that time, Sō Percussion has toured Russia, Spain, Australia, Italy, Germany, and Scotland. He has had the opportunity to work closely with Steve Reich, Steve Mackey, Paul Lansky, David Lang, Matmos, Dan Deacon, and many others.
Josh started performing on the steel drums at Dover High School in Ohio, an interest that continued at the University of Akron, where Dr. Larry Snider founded one of the first collegiate steel bands in the United States. He traveled to Trinidad & Tobago in 2002, performing with the “Phase II Pan Groove” ensemble under Len “Boogsie” Sharpe. This interest in the traditional steel drum music of Trinidad ran in parallel with Josh’s education in western music, first at Akron, and then at the Yale School of Music with marimba soloist Robert Van Sice, where he received his Masters degree in 2006.
These parallel interests led Josh to break ground in the use of the steel drums in contemporary classical music. To date, he has commissioned over a dozen pieces for steel drums from composers such as Stuart Saunders Smith, Roger Zahab, Dan Trueman, and Paul Lansky. In 2010, Steven Mackey’s quartet It Is Time – commissioned for Sō Percussion by Carnegie Hall and Chamber Music America – featured Josh on a new microtonal lead pan in its Carnegie Hall premiere, receiving rave reviews in the New York Times. He’s also had the honor to drill the Brooklyn Steel Orchestra (New York) and Skiffle Bunch Steel Orchestra (Trinidad) for conferences in steel pan and the Panorama competition during carnival in Trinidad and Tobago.
Josh’s compositions for Sō Percussion are featured in Imaginary City, an evening length work that appeared on the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 2009 Next Wave Festival, as well as the site-specific Music for Trains in Southern Vermont. Other ensembles to play his pieces and arrangements include Matmos, PLork, The Janus Trio, Adele Meyers and Dancers, The University of Akron Steel Band, and the New York University Steel Band. He’s recently performed in a staged work by Ain Gordon and himself called “Radicals in Miniature,” telling the stories of influential people who are lost to the pre-internet age.
An avid educator, Josh is a performer-in-residence at Princeton Unviversity with Sō Percussion, as well as co-director of the Sō Percussion Summer Institute, an intensive workshop for college-aged percussionists on the campus of Princeton University. He is in his 14th year as the director of the New York University Steel Band.