in performance: so percussion and the university of kentucky percussion ensemble

So Percussion, from left: Eric Cha-Beach, Josh Quillen, Jason Treuting and Adam Sliwinski. Photo by Evan Monroe Chapman.

By the time So Percussion concluded its centerpiece suite “Amid the Noise” earlier tonight at the Singletary Center for the Arts, everyone was part of the act.

The four members of the troupe – including the work’s composer, Jason Treuting – led the way after spending the previous 45 minutes scattering themselves among dozens of percussive instruments assembled around the stage. So were members of the University of Kentucky Percussion Ensemble, who sat out of sight on the stage floor when not called upon, but rose to action with no small amount of drama when the music’s textures and orchestration needed their input. So, for that matter, was the audience, which was succinctly conducted by So member Josh Quillen to add a choral-like coda to the piece and, fittingly enough, the evening.

So Percussion and the UK Percussion Ensemble played separately during the program’s first half. So tackled Bryce Dessner’s “Music for Wood and Strings” predominantly on devices they termed “chordsticks” – lap steel-shaped instruments with two sets of four criss-crossing strings played with bows and pencils (“No. 2 pencils,” as Treuting emphasized during an introduction). The resulting sounds mimicked a hammer dulcimer with Quillen’s tuning adjusted to create bass like patterns that often led the work.

The UK group took on Sergio Assad’s “Asphalt Junge” with help from guitarists Dieter Hennings (a guest from the UK faculty) and Andrew Zohn. Together with the ensemble’s variety of mallet percussion colors on marimba, vibraphone and glockenspiel, the tune weaved in and out of samba rhythms and more open-ended fragments of melodic grace.

But “Amid the Noise” was the showstopper. Augmented by other faculty and alumni players on cello, accordion and guitar, as well as the participation of ensemble director James Campbell, the full onstage brigade numbered roughly two dozen players. But the suite was all about dynamics, from the mallet cool initiated by Treuting, to a section where all four So members played a single piano (two on strings, one on keys and one tapping out sounds on the frame) before the music melted into another choral section. Treuting manned a drum kit as the piece drew to a close, intensifying the tune’s drive while never deviating from its contemplative and ultimately triumphant spirit.

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