Augusta Read Thomas’ “Resounding Earth” is a work for written for the intrepid Third Coast Percussion ensemble, exploring the meditative and profound sound world of bells.
|01||Invocation: Pulse Radiance|
Invocation: Pulse Radiance
|02||Prayer: Star Dust Orbits|
Prayer: Star Dust Orbits
|03||Mantra: Ceremonial Time Shapes|
Mantra: Ceremonial Time Shapes
|04||Reverie Carillon: Crystal Lattice|
Reverie Carillon: Crystal Lattice
Augusta Read Thomas’ “Resounding Earth” is a work for written for the intrepid Third Coast Percussion ensemble, exploring the meditative and profound sound world of bells. An instrument that figured prominently in Thomas’ ensemble music, bells have a broad set of associations and functions in world cultures, and this piece reverently explores that range. The composer writes, “ the piece is conceived as a cultural statement celebrating interdependence and commonality across all cultures; and as a musical statement celebrating the extraordinary beauty and diversity of expression inherent in these incredible objects.” This recording is being released as a two cd set, one an audio recording and the other a high definition video recording of Third Coast’s poised performance, expertly filmed and edited by percussionist/video artist Ross Karre.
Hailed by The New Yorker as “vibrant” and “superb,” Third Coast Percussion explores and expands the extraordinary sonic possibilities of the percussion repertoire, delivering exciting performances for audiences of all kinds. Since its formation in 2005, Third Coast Percussion has gained national attention with concerts and recordings that meld the energy of rock music with the precision and nuance of classical chamber works. These “hard-grooving” musicians (New York Times) have become known for ground-breaking collaborations across a wide range of disciplines, including concerts and residency projects with engineers at the University of Notre Dame, architects at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, astronomers at the Adler Planetarium, and more. Third Coast Percussion has been the Ensemble-in-Residence at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center since 2013. Third Coast has commissioned and performed world premieres by many of today’s leading composers, including Augusta Read Thomas, Timothy Andres, Glenn Kotche, David T. Little, Marcos Balter, Ted Hearne, and ensemble member David Skidmore. Third Coast’s recent and upcoming concerts and residencies include the Ecstatic Music Festival (New York), Atlas Performing Arts Center (Washington, D.C), the University of Chicago Presents, the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Austin Chamber Music Festival, Millennium Park “Loops and Variations,” the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, and more.
Augusta Read Thomas is among the most sought after composers working today. Her music has been commissioned and performed by the world’s leading orchestras, chamber ensembles, and soloists. Thomas was Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1997-2006. Her piece “Astral Canticle” was one of the two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize and “Colors of Love”, an album featuring Thomas’ work performed by Chanticleer received a Grammy Award in 2007.
Third Coast Percussion is a Grammy Award-winning, artist-run quartet of classically-trained percussionists hailing from the great city of Chicago. For over ten years, the ensemble has forged a unique path in the musical landscape with virtuosic, energetic performances that celebrate the extraordinary depth and breadth of musical possibilities in the world of percussion. The ensemble has been praised for “commandingly elegant” (New York Times) performances, the “rare power” (Washington Post) of their recordings, and “an inspirational sense of fun and curiosity” (Minnesota Star-Tribune). The four members of Third Coast are also accomplished teachers, and since 2013, have served as ensemble-in-residence at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Third Coast Percussion has commissioned and premiered over 40 new works, including music by Augusta Read Thomas, Donnacha Dennehy, Glenn Kotche, Lei Liang, Chris Cerrone, and Gavin Bryars.
Third Coast Percussion is: Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, David Skidmore
The decay of a bell ring can be mapped linearly, but the resonance of struck metal contains in it an element of eternity, floating away rather than being extinguished. Augusta Read Thomas’s new four-movement commission for Third Coast Percussion, Resounding Earth, embraces the spiritual connotations of these instruments with titles “Invocation,” “Prayer,” “Mantra” and “Reverie Carillon.” The exuberant trades and dueting of the opening “Invocation” lift skyward as though each bell were tethered to a helium balloon. The dynamic range on display throughout the album further magnifies the elysian quality of Thomas’s writing, and Third Coast’s performance is as synchronous as it is dramatically fertile. Toss out those Deepak Chopra guided meditations cassettes and find a true state of bliss (with 100% less synthesizer) in Resounding Earth.
Chicago's premier percussion ensemble tackles a commission from Augusta Read Thomas, formerly a Mead Composer-in-Residence with the CSO and now a professor at the University of Chicago. The four-movement Resounding Earth is built around the ringing, tinkling, and clanging of bells (though lots of other metal percussion turns up as well), with tones both terse and sustained. The CD comes with a DVD shot while the group recorded the work, which gives you a look at the meticulous integration required by the score—all four Third Coast members stay feverishly busy weaving together the music's layers of rude impacts and serene resonances.
- Peter Margasak
Augusta Read Thomas’s Resounding Earth is an opportunity for the composer to explore an interest in bells that she’s had for years. She explains that bells are used all over the world, for different purposes. The bells used here by Third Coast Percussion are of all shapes and sizes, as can be seen on the DVD included with the record. As the piece unfolds, different types of bells are brought to the fore, and different harmonic and rhythmic textures coincide with this change in timbre. The tension between bells as a universally appreciated instrument and their many uses is part of what makes the piece fascinating. The title seems to refer not to one earth, with its people unanimous in their musical expression, but rather to a tour of many bells and varied music. There are four movements, each of which feels like a new perspective on the same spirited percussion music. While there are complex rhythms, it is never messy, and the performance is gripping until the final rings have died out.
- George Adams
Another outgrowth of Third Coast's residency at Notre Dame is the percussion piece "Resounding Earth" by Augusta Read Thomas, a former Chicago Symphony Orchestra resident composer who now serves as a University Professor at the U. of C. Thomas worked closely with Skidmore and his fellow musicians as they collected more than 125 bells from around the world to create the work's sound-world. They then spent countless hours refining nuances, tunings, even the onstage placement of the vast battery of bells and gongs. Skidmore estimates Third Coast has performed the piece some 17 times across the country since premiering it at Notre Dame in September 2012. The performance I caught last week at the U. of C. concluded the group's February residency there.
The four sections of "Resounding Earth" celebrate, in the composer's words, "commonality across all cultures," along with "the extraordinary beauty and diversity of expression" of instruments – including Burmese spinning bells, Indian Noah bells, Thai gongs and Japanese singing bowls, or rin. There's a ritualistic quality to Thomas' tintinnabulations, each percussionist assuming by turns a kind of hieratic function. Bell sounds at once ancient and modern – bright, dark, shimmering, shattering, rhythmic, lyric – combine to create a wondrous, otherworldly carillon. I found the delicate cosmic song of the Japanese rin in the "Prayer" section absolutely haunting.
The Third Coast players made a terrific case for "Resounding Earth" along with other percussion works by John Cage and Guo Wenjing. Their recording of "Resounding Earth," containing spot-on audio and video performances, is available on New Focus Recordings.
Resounding Earth was commissioned by the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center for their first permanent resident ensemble: Third Coast Percussion. Most readers will need little introduction to either Third Coast Percussion or Augusta Read Thomas, so suffice to say that this recording brings together one of Chicago – and America’s – most important living composers, with one of its most exciting emerging ensembles.
For most composers, a piece such Resounding Earth – with some 300 bells and other pieces of metal from around the world – would smell rather heavily of a gimmick, but Augusta Read Thomas’ “signature sound” in her orchestral music has always been connected to her love of resonance and, in particular, her use of the metallic percussion instruments such as crotales, vibraphones and glockenspiel. In a lecture to the University of Chicago’s Franke Institute, Thomas goes so far as to say: “…bells have been central to my music for 30 years. These certain attack-sustain-decay envelopes that I’ve been writing. Whether I’m writing them for chorus, for piano, for large orchestra, for chamber ensemble – are very central to what I’ve been doing.”
There’s a sense, then, in which Resounding Earth is a natural and organic outgrowth of Thomas’ established interests. You might think that thirty-five minutes of non-stop resonance would be a rather one-sided affair, but Thomas is a master of colour and though she herself has spoken about the difficulties of writing a piece with no strings, brass, voices, skins or drums of any kind, there is a still a very distinct progression in the piece which travels through dramatic tension and release.
There are four movements in the work, and each one is dedicated to two or three masters of the past century. They are:
Invocation – Pulse Radiance (Homage to Oliver Messiaen and Igor Stravinsky)
Prayer – Star Dust Orbits (Homage to Luciano Berio and Pierre Boulez)
Mantra – Ceremonial Time Shapes (Homage to Lou Harrison and György Ligeti)
Reverie Carillon – Crystal Lattice (Homage to Edgard Varese, Harry Partch, and John Cage)
Augusta Read Thomas is a composer who understands that there are more to bell-sounds than the familiar decay, and the first movement begins with a quasi-groove that stretches across ten Indian Noah Bells and a variety of metal pipes and other small table-top metals. There is a certain harmonic tension that develops over the course of this movement between the microtonal nature of the ‘world’ percussion and more ‘western’ instruments such as the vibraphone and glockenspiel. I’m not entirely convinced that this tension is solved within the movement, but it is clearly and purposefully contrasted against the extreme unity of Movement II, in which the four percussionists gather together around a table of twenty-six Japanese Rin and 2-4 crotales each.
If the first movement is very much about “attack”, this is a movement that manages to explore the “sustain” element of the bells. The result is a sense of the eternal, as the Rin as struck and stirred in a way where one simultaneously never seems to hear the end of any pitch, while still feeling a constant sense of movement. A composer should sometimes be lauded as much for what they manage to avoid doing, and I think it should be notated that this extraordinary sound world is created without the clichéd sound of the bowed crotale.
As you might expect, then, the third movement takes up the idea of decay. Fifteen minutes into a piece with four percussionists and nothing but metal, it is amazing how fresh and exciting Thomas has managed to make this movement’s opening gesture: a single unison strike of four Burma bells. At this point, it starts to register that Resounding Earth is a piece that is somewhat unsatisfying in audio alone. In audio alone, one is constantly left wondering exactly which instrument is being played to make this or that extraordinary sound.
One wants to see as well as hear the spinning Burma Bells, and in this the DVD should really be your first port of call for experiencing and exploring this music. Beautifully filmed at Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Centre, this is music that really is lifted by seeing these four virtuoso percussionists navigating a set-up that is visually as rich as its sound world.
The final movement brings together all that we’ve been hearing in the preceding movements. The percussionists move freely between the three ‘stations’ that were established in the opening movements of the piece, and the work grows to where each percussionist is released into an improvised “four-way solo” across the entire range of instruments. Each picks up a tubular chime and walks to the center of the stage for a single, final, unison chime.
- Aaron Halloway-Narum, May 2014