VAIL — The Bravo! Vail Chamber Music Series continues on Tuesday with two works for two pianos and percussion, featuring Bravo! Vail’s artistic director and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott and pianist Gilles Vonsattel together with Third Coast Percussion at Vail’s Donovan Pavilion. The concert spotlights two exhilarating works: “Sextet” by American composer Steve Reich and Bela Bartok’s individualistic and expressive “Sonata for Two Pianos & Percussion.” These rarely-performed works call for two virtuosic pianists to combine forces with percussionists to create a performance that is thrilling to watch and fascinating to hear. Physically demanding for both pianists and percussionists, the “Sonata for Two Pianos & Percussion” will feature two members of Third Coast Percussion, who will play seven instruments between them: timpani, bass drum (gran cassa), cymbals, triangle, snare drum (both on- and off- snares), tam-tam (gong) and xylophone.
Bartok’s Dazzling Music
McDermott offers Bartok’s “Sonata for Two Pianos & Percussion” to Bravo! Vail after several years of planning and eager anticipation. Bartok, who fled the rise of the Nazis in Hungary in 1936, composed the sonata from sanctuary in Switzerland to mark the 10th anniversary of the International Society for Contemporary Music in 1937. The sonata simultaneously explores Bartok’s fascination with the “percussive timbres of the piano and the expressive capacity of percussion.” Its fiendishly difficult writing is not for the faint-hearted, but in the right hands, it is arguably Bartok’s most dazzling masterpiece.
‘Sextet’: A History
Reich, called “our greatest living composer” by The New York Times, was commissioned to write “Sextet” by Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians, and by the French Government for the Nexus Percussion Ensemble. The first performance, under the title Music for Percussion and Keyboards, was given at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1984 by Nexus, with guest artists playing keyboards. The last movement was revised in 1985 and the title shortened to “Sextet.” The American premier was presented by Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival in 1985.
“Sextet” explores “dissonant harmonies and aggressive rhythms while maintaining a similar luminous purity,” according to John Baez, a music writer and American mathematical physicist and a professor of mathematics at the University of California, Riverside. The work not only represents one of the pinnacles of Reich’s career, it is one of the most remarkable pieces of music composed within the past 30 years.
About Third Coast
Third Coast Percussion, which is midway into its first Bravo! Vail residency, is a Chicago-based ensemble that explores the sonic possibilities of the percussion repertoire, delivering exciting performances for audiences of all kinds. The group makes its Bravo! Vail Chamber Music Series debut at this concert.