Princeton University went beyond the usual suspects when it selected the quartet So Percussion as their Edward T. Cone Performers in Residence in 2014.
“The idea of a music ensemble in residence traditionally has meant a string quartet, reaching back into the classical tradition to play Beethoven and Bartok and things like that,” said So Percussion member Adam Sliwinski. “Instead, when we started here, the idea was that Princeton has a large community of composers making new works of music, and because we didn’t have much repertoire to begin with, what we do is to generate new repertoire and forge relationships with composers.”
In addition to working with composers in the graduate program, Princeton asked the ensemble to interact with the entire school community.
“They said they want every student touched by the arts,” said founding member Jason Treuting. “So we’ve looked for ways to work with students at all different levels, not just music majors.” Those efforts range from the formation of a steel band and working with the Princeton Laptop Orchestra, to teaching classes that explore the intersection of music, dance and visual arts.
Members of the group pride themselves on being much more than four drummers. “We write our own music. We commission and collaborate with musicians who aren’t necessarily in the classical fold,” said Sliwinski.
Contemporary music icon Steve Reich wrote “Mallet Quartet” for them and three co-commissioning ensembles in 2009.
“We grew up idolizing Steve Reich,” said Treuting. “In a lot of ways, it was what drew us to do what we do.” For other works, they’ve cast a wide net, with commissions ranging from jazz pianist Vijay Iyer to Bryce Dessner, guitarist with the rock band The National. Those two works will appear on an eclectic program for this evening’s concert.
“We’re musically omnivorous, and the program really reflects who we are,” said Treuting. “We’re including some of the lineage we come from, like Iannis Xenakis and Pauline Oliveros, plus pieces written by two members of our group. And we’re also focusing on our commissioning work, with new works by Puerto Rican composer Angélica Negrón and Joan Tower, who wrote it for her 80th birthday.”
So Percussion will mark the beginning of their fifth year as Performers in Residence at Princeton University with a free concert Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium Hall.