Looking ahead to 2020, by Ian Rosenbaum

One of the hardest things about being in a group like Sandbox Percussion is planning ahead. To commission new works, to collaborate with directors, dancers, other musicians, and to execute large-scale projects takes time. In some cases, planning for a big project can start 3 or 4 years before the first planned performance. It’s hard to think ahead to that degree while also simultaneously prepare and perform whatever it is that is going on in the present.


I say all of this because the Spring of 2020 represents the culmination of years of planning, workshops, and development – it’s one of the most exciting stretches of time in our history. We’ll premiere 3 big pieces that we’ve been thinking about and working on for years, as well as travel to a whole bunch of new places.


First – on March 1 and 2 we’ll perform at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC. This program was co-curated by Viet Cuong, and it will feature his beautiful wine glass quartet Water, Wine, Brandy, Brine along with the world premiere of a brand new quartet of his. Our relationship with Viet is a perfect example of what we try to cultivate – we’ve been friends with him since we met in college, and have been playing his music for years. He wrote his sensational concerto Re(new)al for us a few years back, but this is the first time that he’s writing a quartet for us. It’s a really special thing to work with somebody like Viet on multiple projects over several years – he has grown and changed as a composer in countless ways, and the way that the 4 of us play has also changed. We don’t know the specifics of what he’ll do yet, but I’ll bet in this piece – like in so many of his others – he’ll ask us to create beauty out of objects and instruments that are not traditionally thought of as beautiful. His wine glass piece is a perfect example of this – I could not believe the sounds that Viet evoked from those household objects…his creativity inspired us to spend a whole lot of time practicing our wine glass technique and sound! We also can’t wait to perform at Dumbarton Oaks – it’s a beautiful room, both aesthetically and acoustically. Tickets for these performances are only open to Dumbarton Oaks subscribers right now, but individual tickets will go on sale right here in January.


Then, on April 17 we’ll premiere Seven Pillars, a 75-minute work by Andy Akiho. This is a big one for all of us, but also for me personally – I met Andy in graduate school, and we’ve been close friends and constant musical partners since. Andy wrote his first percussion quartet Pillar IV back in 2014 – as he was writing, he kept telling me that he had more material, more ideas in his head. As he composed Pillar IV, he kind of sketched out a full evening of music in his head, with Pillar IV as its center. The piece is loosely based on the seven Japanese gods of fortune, and in the end it will feature 11 movements – 7 quartets (i.e. Pillars) and 4 solos – one for each of us in Sandbox. This is an interesting addition for us – although each of us has extensive experience with solo playing, we’ve never featured this part of our playing in our Sandbox performances.


The performance of this piece will be visual along with aural – the wonderful director Michael McQuilken will create the lighting design, stage layout, and projection design for the piece. Michael is another friend of Andy and mine from graduate school – along with being a talented percussionist and actor, he’s a sensational director and videographer. He’s produced many of the videos that Andy and I have put out over the years – but this will be the first time that he works with Sandbox!


By the time we premiere Seven Pillars at the Mondavi Center in Davis, CA, we will have had about 7 weeks of workshops with Andy and Michael over 2 years. We’ve had the pleasure of being in residence at Avaloch Farm Music Institute in New Hampshire twice for this project – last year, we spent a long chunk of time there – while Andy and I have known each other for years, this was our opportunity for all 5 of us to get to know each other. We ended up recording 3 pieces (including the Pillar IV video above, as well as a few others that we haven’t released yet…) and laying the groundwork for Seven Pillars. Then, we returned this past Fall to dive into Seven Pillars – we sketched out all of the quartet movements, finalizing the instrumentation and general feel of each part of the piece. In February, we’ll go to Mana Contemporary in Jersey City – there, we will work with Michael on the visual aspects of the piece and start turning the music into a performance. We will present a little work-in-progress performance while we’re there, so stay tuned for that.


Seven Pillars also represents our biggest fundraising initiative to date – we are so thankful to the members of the 2019/2020 Sandbox Percussion Membership Program, along with many other individual donors + the Barlow Endowment and Chamber Music America for helping to make this project a reality. The world premiere of Seven Pillars is nearly sold out, but there are a few tickets left right here.


Finally, on June 25, we’ll premiere a new quintet for prepared piano and percussion quartet by Chris Cerrone with Conor Hanick at Caramoor in Katonah, NY. Chris is another old friend of ours – and I think he’s written some of the most intimate and personal percussion music that I have ever experienced. His solo piece Memory Palace is outstanding – I don’t know of that many percussion pieces that make me feel emotions as intensely as this one does.


We commissioned Chris a few years back to write his piece Goldbeater’s Skin for mezzo-soprano and percussion quartet, and we couldn’t have been more thrilled with that collaboration. Chris stretches us as musicians in really unique ways – he writes music that asks us to do things with our percussion instruments that many composers don’t – things like playing extremely lyrically and building a perfectly balanced composite melody between all 4 of us. So, when Conor approached us with this idea, we jumped at the opportunity. Conor is a magnificent performer, and I think this partnership is going to yield something really special. It’s also wonderful to be able to return to Caramoor – we made our debut last summer with an outdoor performance of John Luther Adams’ songbirdsongs, and it will be exciting to present a full program that features this world premiere. Tickets for this one are not on sale yet either, but stay tuned for that in the Spring.


All of that is in addition to lots of other things – performances in NYC, a return to the Vale of Glamorgan Festival in Wales, a continuation of our long-term collaboration with the Albany Symphony, our 5th NYU Sandbox Percussion Seminar (!!) and much more. Check out our website for complete details.


Happy New Year – and we really hope that we’ll see you in 2020!