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Profiles in Percussion with So Percussion
Profiles in Percussion:
A Conversation with Sō Percussion about the Sō Percussion Summer Institute (SoSI)
Since its inception in 1999, education has become an increasingly important part of Sō Percussion's mission. Its members share a firm belief that inherent in an artist’s career is a responsibility to pass on practical advice and mentorship to young artists. The Sō Percussion Summer Institute seeks to fulfill this promise by providing a unique educational opportunity to percussionists and composers at one of the most critical stages of their development. The program offers a hands-on experience that brings the practical and theoretical together:
- Commissioning/Creating new music
- Fruitful collaboration with and among artists
- The rehearsal and development process
Keith Aleo sat down with the members of Sō to talk about their summer program to get an inside view on how it shapes both the attendees and their own musical perspective.
About Sō Percussion
So Percussion ©2020 Shervin Lainez
For twenty years and counting, Sō Percussion has redefined chamber music for the 21st century through an “exhilarating blend of precision and anarchy, rigor and bedlam” (The New Yorker). They are celebrated by audiences and presenters for a dazzling range of work: for live performances in which “telepathic powers of communication” (The New York Times) bring to life the vibrant percussion repertoire; for an extravagant array of collaborations in classical music, pop, indie rock, contemporary dance, and theater; and for their work in education and community, creating opportunities and platforms for music and artists that explore the immense possibility of art in our time.
In the 2021-22 season, Sō Percussion returns to live concerts and continues to develop a range of online programs. In December 2021, they return for their seventh featured concert at Carnegie Hall with an all-star cast of collaborators, including Grammy-winning soprano Dawn Upshaw, pianist Gil Kalish, Nathalie Joachim (recipient of their inaugural Andrew W. Siegel Fellowship), Shodekeh Talifero, Caroline Shaw, and more. This fall they will be performing David Lang’s man made with the Cincinnati Symphony, and touring their new Nonesuch Records album Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part with Shaw around the United States.
In addition to Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part, Sō welcomed a number of critically acclaimed albums in 2021: Caroline Shaw’s Narrow Sea on Nonesuch Records, A Record Of.. on Brassland Music with indie duo Buke and Gase, and an acclaimed version of Julius Eastman’s Stay On It on new imprint Sō Percussion Editions. This adds to a catalogue of more than twenty-five albums featuring landmark recordings of works by David Lang, Steve Reich, Steve Mackey, and many other composers.
During the 2020-21 season of remote collaboration, Sō Percussion developed their innovative Flexible Commissions initiative, which asks composers to write pieces with multiple possible realizations, unlimited by specific instrumentation and able to be presented live or in online performance. Recent and upcoming Flexible Commissions include works by Bora Yoon, Darian Donovan Thomas, Claire Rousay, Kendall K. Williams, Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, and Shodekeh Talifero.
Sō Percussion is in its eighth year as Edward T. Cone performers-in-residence at Princeton University. In addition to teaching chamber music, presenting concerts for the Princeton community, and collaborating with composers on new works, this year the members of Sō are working with Director of African Music Ensemble Olivier Tarpaga to design and teach a new course on rhythm. This course is offered as part of the undergraduate curriculum, exposing students to rhythmic practices from West African, Caribbean, European, South American, and North American traditions.
Since its first performance as a student ensemble in 1999, Sō Percussion has appeared at many of the most prestigious concert halls and festivals around the world, including Carnegie Hall, the Paris Philharmonie, the Barbican Centre, BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), Walt Disney Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel, the Lincoln Center Festival, at the international TED conference, and throughout Europe, Australia, and South America. In 2020, Sō conducted an Amid the Noise residency at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, and performed in the finals of Panorama with the Caribbean Airlines Skiffle Steel Orchestra. Sō has been featured on WNYC’s Radiolab with Jad Abumrad, NPR’s Weekend Edition, NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, New Sounds with John Schaefer, and elsewhere.
Rooted in the belief that music is an elemental form of human communication, and galvanized by forces for social change in recent years, Sō Percussion enthusiastically pursues a growing range of social and community outreach through their nonprofit organization. Their Brooklyn Bound concert series, now in its seventh year, provides a platform for a growing community of artists. The Sō Percussion Summer Institute, which just completed its thirteenth year, is an intensive two-week chamber music seminar for percussionists and composers. SōSI features community performances, new work development, guest artist workshops, and an annual food-packing drive, yielding 25,000 meals per year for the Crisis Center of Mercer County through the organization End Hunger NE. Sō Percussion has also devoted itself to a range of programs that advance goals and projects in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility. These efforts include a studio residency program in Brooklyn, partnerships with other local music organizations – such as Pan in Motion – the donation of proceeds from album sales to Black-led organizations – including Castle of Our Skins – fiscal sponsorship, and inclusive programming.