Three weeks ago I had the chance to perform Alaskan composer John Luther Adams’s expansive work Inuksuit. On its own, the piece provided the final concert for the weeklong Tune-in festival curated by eighth blackbird and held at the cavernous and historic Park Avenue Armory. It was my second time playing the piece, having performed in it Texas last April. Doug Perkins flexed his considerable organizational muscle to oversee both performances. For this, the New York premiere, I joined an ensemble of 72 percussionists from around the country and a complement of 6 piccolo players (can’t leave them out!). Doug handpicked a crack team that proved to be a percussive super group with plenty of serious ringers. Admittedly, I was a little star struck playing alongside the likes of Steve Schick, Jan Williams, and eighth blackbird. Also representing were So Percussion, Mantra Percussion, red fish blue fish, students from the Hartt School, Peabody, Stonybrook, Yale, and many more. From the first moment of the rehearsal process (a meeting to discuss the events and flow of the piece) it was clear I was at a large gathering of really sharp drummers. It was the ultimate drum circle.
What resulted was a realization of Adams’ hour plus score that unfolded in an organic, sensitive, and mature manner shocking for an unconducted band of that size. More akin to a living organism than a percussion orchestra, we listened patiently, played our notes, and took gradual cues to slowly wade through the music. Even better than being a part of this uncommon experience was that around 1,200 people showed up to hear this massive exploration of sounds with all its wailing sirens, crashing cymbals and gongs, pummeling of drums, stone rubbing, whistle tube whirling, and conch shell horn blasts. People came out for this thing and it was well received. It also garnered some really nice press, further acknowledging the Herculean effort invested for it to be presented.
Here’s the New York Times review and a video excerpt that provides an idea of the spatial arrangement of the players and the controlled cacophony happening under a very large roof.