Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center
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Third Coast Percussion Hammers Cage at MoMA

by Angela Sutton


Third Coast Percussion dodged the raindrops at MoMA on Thursday night, presenting a mostly John Cage concert in honor of the composer's centenary and his 1943 MoMA percussion program.

With an extended battery of toys, Third Coast demonstrated both Cage's own broad palette of sound and the room he left for others' invention. For example, in Credo in Us, Cage called for piano, traditional Western and Eastern percussion, and radios tuned to various stations. On the other hand, in Quartet, his first work for percussion, he left instrumentation decisions to the performers. In the third movement of Quartet, Third Coast plucked, striked, and scraped the strings of an unlucky upright piano, which they had stripped down to its harp and laid on its side.

Though loose in some respects, Cage's music does have precise dimensions. The launching of various events must be timed correctly to maintain the driving rhythms and highlight unconventional moments. The members of Third Coast (David Skidmore, Peter Martin, Robert Dillon, and Owen Clayton Condon) showed a high degree of coordination and inventiveness in realizing Cage's compositions.

Third Coast commissed the one non-Cage work on the program–RENGA:Cage:100, a series of seconds-long fragments by 100 living composers. The piece included devices at every level of sophistication, from cell phones to rocks, and curiosities such as beads dumped from a Sousaphone and the simultaneous popping of PBRs. Perhaps it was inevitable that transitions between fragments would be the principal performance problem. However, aside from some awkward silences, Third Coast pulled off many of the transitions, primarily by treating them as an opportunity for theater.

Cage's Third Construction wrapped up the evening, beginning modestly and ramping up to a vigorous finale that had the performers in a true sweat. It was a fitting conclusion for a program highlighting Cage's strange blend of earnestness and humor.