Described as “exhilarating” (The New York Times), and “virtuosic and utterly mesmerizing” (The Guardian), Brooklyn’s Sandbox Percussion is one of today’s leading percussion ensembles. Seven Pillars, nominated for a Grammy in 2021, is the jaw-dropping result of a years-long collaboration with trailblazing composer Andy Akiho. The boldly genre-defying collaboration consists of seven ensemble movements and one solo movement for each member of Sandbox. With a striking lighting scheme by Michael Joseph McQuilken, the 80-minute, 11-part work is the largest-scale chamber music work that Akiho has written and that Sandbox has commissioned, with their collaboration spanning the past eight years.
7:00pm / Join us for a conversation with members of Sandbox Percussion.
WARNING: This performance features strobe lights, and could potentially trigger seizures for people with photosensitive epilepsy.
Summer Season Shuttle / Take the FREE shuttle from Metro North’s Katonah train station to and from Caramoor! The shuttle runs before and after every summer afternoon and evening concert. No need to RSVP to get on the shuttle, it will be there when you arrive (in the parking lot side of the station). And if it’s not there, that means that it just left and will be back in 5-10 minutes!
“Wielding lightning-fast syncopated stickwork, Sandbox Percussion created a hypersonic morse code …” — Musical America
Andy Akiho: Seven Pillars
Seven Pillars by Andy Akiho explores the free spaces created within an organized structure. This evening-length work, comprising seven quartets and four solos, began with its central movement, PillarIV. Originally commissioned as a stand-alone work, this piece contained a rigorous structure and motivic content that Akiho felt compelled to expand beyond its 10-minute capsule. PillarIV became the nucleus for SevenPillars, containing the DNA from which the other six quartets are built.
The macro-structure of Seven Pillars is made up of two simultaneous processes. The first is an additive process where each movement introduces a new instrument that is then incorporated into the subsequent pillars. To balance this expansion, there is a symmetrical structure on either side of the central movement, Pillar IV.
The reflecting movements—PillarsI &VII, Pillars II & VI, Pillars III & V—share formal elements, motives, pitch sets, and other musical elements, but Akiho is the first to say that this is not the point of SevenPillars. Rather, this structure creates space that can be populated with emotion and imagination. Even the reflecting movements are occupied by wildly different aesthetics despite sharing an underlying logic. While still observing the macro-structure, these free spaces are first seen in the solo movements. The solos have a more improvisatory form, elaborating on the pillars, going off on tangents, or transporting us to somewhere else entirely. They are the skin to the pillars’ bones, but, as we zoom in further, this soft tissue permeates every moment of this meticulously crafted work.
Pillar I unapologetically throws us into the world of Seven Pillars. The building blocks of the piece are flying around like shrapnel, colliding and combining with each other to eventually congeal into a cohesive whole. The timbral color of this movement is equally elemental, offering the starkest palate of unpitched, articulate, and raw sounds.
The first solo, Amethyst,is scored for vibraphone, and it transports us away from the cacophony of PillarI into the colorful, dreamlike world of pitch and brightness. Beginning with lyricism and subtlety, Amethyst eventually works itself into a frenzy. In the aftermath of this turmoil, the movement floats away into the cosmos of Pillar II.
Pillar II is an otherworldly experience generated from Akiho’s reimagining of what the vibraphone and crotales can be. It begins with glowing, amorphous sounds. The resolution on these sounds is made finer and finer as the piece progresses, until they become sharply defined. The glowing waves of light at the start of the piece become sparkling photons of light at the finish.
Pillar IIIbrings us back to earth with its firm rhythmic underpinning. Interlocking figures dance around each other and then snap into unison. We are treated to Akiho’s version of a backbeat— in 13 beats rather than in 4—which is layered with complex variations that culminate into a fire- alarm of sound. As with Amethyst, this irreconcilable tumult collapses into a sedated coda, recuperating from the previous blows.
The second solo, Spiel, introduces the glockenspiel, but not as it’s ever been heard before. This glockenspiel kicks down the door and delivers a relentless message, dazzling with its speed and agility. Eventually it disappears into thin air as if nothing had happened.
The stage is now set for the nucleus of the whole piece, PillarIV. Every theme presented thus far is here, tightly woven into an impenetrable lattice structure. No event is out of place, this movement is the gears of the clock. Even in its moments of ambiguity, PillarIV has a straight- faced determination that is unflappable.
mARImbA, the third solo of Seven Pillars, introduces the marimba to our sound palette. It begins starkly, with a single bowed pitch that looks back to the sounds that began Pillar II. This gives way to a distant chorale – soft, deep, rolled marimba chords interrupted by a distant vibraphone melody. The piece ends with an aria. This improvisatory and melodic section jumps back and forth from the very bottom to the very top of the marimba, pushing and pulling as it fades away into a distant memory.
PillarVis a sadistic game. The marimba is now an integral part of the sound world with its rich depth, and the piece has also begun retracing its steps by reflecting the forms of previous movements. In PillarVwe hear the same hexatonic scale that we heard in PillarIII, but now it is used as the foundation for a bass line ostinato. With each repetition, this piece swells like a festering wound, and where Amethystand PillarIIIleft off in their self-devouring crescendos, PillarVcontinues. A singular build which lasts the latter two-thirds of the movement presses forward relentlessly. PillarVends with a manic, obsessive, accelerating repetition of its six pitches.
Pillar VI is the delirious fever-dream following Pillar V. A motif like the twitchy ticking of a clock in the high marimba is battled by unsettled unison gestures. These finally give way to a weightless feeling in the middle of the movement. The final section of PillarVI is profound in its unique simplicity within the context of Seven Pillars. Unison repeated pulses anchor a high marimba descant that reaches and grasps for unattainable heights. These pulses fade away and so too does the desperate melody.
The fourth and final solo, carTogRAPh, is also the penultimate movement in SevenPillars. Scored for a multi-percussion setup (a ‘trap’ set) consisting of a variety of pitched and unpitched sounds, carTogRAPhis a virtuosic display of rhythmic complexity and agility. The work is extroverted and exuberant, oftentimes sounding as if it could take the place of the drum solo in a rock concert. At the moment the listener feels like they could tap their foot or predict what comes next, the music shifts beneath their feet. Titled accordingly, carTogRAPhrequires the performer to navigate a highly detailed map of musical twists and turns in this exhilarating demonstration of dexterity.
PillarVIIis full of nostalgia. This is thanks in part to the simple three-note melody that permeates the whole movement, as well as the familiar themes that are recapitulated within this movement. Formally, PillarVIIis nearly a carbon copy of PillarI, but rather than stark unpitched sounds, PillarVIIispopulated with all the vivid colors that have been discovered throughout the piece. By now, we’ve come to expect the gradual build that has propelled so many of the previous movement forward, but PillarVIIfinds its own way to deliver on this front. Rather than breaking itself under the duress and intensity, PillarVIItranscends itself. Notes that were dizzyingly fast now seem comforting, and with each successive layer we gain confidence, not concern. This movement, and the entire SevenPillars, finishes with the performers executing over five thousand notes in the final three minutes alone. It’s like taking off in a rocket, and we all are passengers.
— Jonny Allen
Described as “exhilarating” (The New York Times) and “utterly mesmerizing” (The Guardian), Grammy-nominated ensemble Sandbox Percussion brings out the best in composers through their unwavering dedication to artistry in contemporary chamber music. Brought together by their love of chamber music and the simple joy of playing together, Sandbox Percussion captivates audiences with performances that are both visually and aurally stunning.
Sandbox Percussion’s 2021 album Seven Pillars was nominated for two Grammy awards — Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance and Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Sandbox Percussion will perform Seven Pillars over 15 times in the 2022 – 23 season, with sold-out stops throughout the United States and Europe. In October, Sandbox Percussion will perform the work live with the LA Dance Project and choreographer Benjamin Millepied at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.
In addition to maintaining an international performance schedule, Sandbox Percussion holds the position of ensemble-in-residence and percussion faculty at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and The New School’s College of Performing Arts, where they have created a curriculum with entrepreneurship and chamber music at its core. In 2016, Sandbox Percussion founded the annual NYU Sandbox Percussion Seminar — a week-long seminar that invites percussion students from around the globe to rehearse and perform today’s leading percussion chamber music repertoire.
Sandbox Percussion endorses Pearl/Adams musical instruments, Zildjian cymbals, Vic Firth sticks and mallets, Remo drumheads, and Black Swamp accessories.
To learn more about Sandbox Percussion, please visit their website.
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WARNING: This performance features strobe lights, and could potentially trigger seizures for people with photosensitive epilepsy
This concert was made possible, in part, thanks to the generous support of The Amphion Foundation.