Matt Cook of the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet on Holding the Lion’s Paw

Andrew McIntosh came up to me at a concert last week to invite me to hear the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet premiere his new piece, I Hold The Lion’s Paw, at Zipper Hall this Friday, April 10. I’ve loved LAPQ’s recordings, and immediately thought, “wait a second, why haven’t we done anything with them on New Classic LA?” Andrew introduced me to percussionist/LAPQ member Matt Cook, and here we are.

The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet

The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet

Fill us in on the show at Zipper this weekend.

On Friday, April 10th, the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet will play a new piece from Andrew McIntosh called “I Hold The Lion’s Paw.”  We are thrilled to premiere this in Zipper Hall because we can take advantage of the size and acoustics of such an incredible space.  We will have four stations set up around the audience to spread melodies in the air and move our sound around the hall. The goal is to create a concert experience that is tailored more towards our audiences’ ears rather than their eyes.

The other pieces on the concert will remain on stage and represent a more traditional chamber music concert experience. These pieces have been written for us by Los Angeles based composers Nick Deyoe, Joseph Pereira, and Shaun Naidoo.  For audiences that have never attended a percussion concert, they will be amazed by the virtuosity of percussionists as well as the diverse sonic possibilities of the art form.

With the music you choose to program and record, it’s obvious that space is important to you. Your records on Sono Luminus are recorded in 7.1 surround sound. Did the decision to record like that come from within the group, or from the recording team? Do you feel that the recordings work equally well on a stereo setup like most listeners have?

As opposed to a string quartet or those with piano, the percussion performance model is very fluid and always changing. We often have strict space constraints because of the large size of our instruments like timpani and marimbas.  Equally as often, we have high flexibility in space based on the kind of repertoire we choose and the smaller  instruments we could use to create it.

At each show, we try to use the space provided to give an audience the deepest experience possible. We tailor each piece and our instrument choices to do just that.

When we perform in a small space, we give an intimate experience of hand held instruments and use items that can fit on one small table. These concerts often explore rhythm or the nuance of softer sounds. When in a large hall, we choose music that can push the limits of the louder dynamic spectrum.

We are excited to perform this show in Zipper because the hall is sensitive enough capture subtle details with clarity and it is large enough to let us push the louder moments.

The spatial aesthetic of our albums began when we started our recording partnership with Sono Luminus.  Most of what they record is in 7.1 Surround Sound and designed to appeal to both the audiophile community and traditional lovers of classical music.

Their recording sessions typically use one tower of microphones in the center of the room with seven microphones pointing in every direction.  During the session, we place our instruments in four stations surrounding the microphones so they can capture the actual spatial sound image. This presents challenges when trying to execute tight rhythmic passages over a great distance, but it pays off when we are able to listen to a piece and feel like you’re sitting in the middle of the ensemble.

When our albums are released, they come with two discs – one stereo CD, and one BluRay surround sound disc.  To me, the stereo version still captures the beautiful details of the composition, our playing, and a large dynamic spectrum.  The stereo version is also how 95% of our listeners can hear the album (iTunes, Spotify, and mp3s, etc).  Having said that, sitting in the middle of a BluRay surround sound album with the production quality that Sono Luminus offers is an extremely rare and rewarding experience.

You have, in not a huge amount of time, put out an impressive number of records, nabbed a GRAMMY nomination, and managed to keep a very busy schedule of performances and events. You’re still in touch with our local scene here, though. Without being too blunt about it, what’s your secret?

We appreciate the kind thoughts and we feel fortunate that our work has been received so  well up to now.  With the individual realities of our family lifestyles, SoCal living proximity, and our creative work with other projects, it is not possible for us to be a “full-time” ensemble at the moment. We are also passionate educators so this makes presenting long tours challenging.

Dealing with our limited schedules, we have chosen to create most of our work by collaborating with composers who are associated with Southern California in some way. The Los Angeles art music community in 2015 is equally as diverse and exciting as anywhere in the world.  Although we do work with composers all over the world, since our ensemble’s birth we have made it our mission to highlight the music of Southern California. In doing so, we hope to extend the long tradition of new music on the West Coast by contributing what is happening right now.

Our relationships with these artists help propel our artistry and career as an ensemble. We work together to create an audience, a sound world, and relationships with music venues.

Percussion quartet is a genre that more and more composers are writing in. Is the medium becoming today’s equivalent of the string quartet in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries? If so, why do you think that is?

Percussion repertoire is expanding rapidly… we love this! There are several reasons for this recent explosion of content.

75 years ago, composer John Cage challenged the expectations of classical music listeners and used percussionists to experiment in a variety of musical contexts.  He set the trend for many composers today to be ambitious in that way. He also established the trend for many percussionists to volunteer to experiment for composers and push the limits of what they could achieve behind an orchestra.

The large collection of instruments many of us have and the hundreds of sounds we can create is attractive to many composers. These sounds often can not be appreciated from behind a larger ensemble, so percussion quartet is a great outlet to explore them. For example, crumbling paper or bowing a cymbal is a kind of sound that requires very few other events to be happening in that moment so they can be heard.

Lastly, the pedagogy over the last 65 years has evolved and created an incredible vehicle for producing creative, talented, and ambitious students. These students create professional ensembles or become teachers to an even more evolved group of young students. A few decades ago, percussion training was limited to orchestral applications or drumset. Now, percussion ensemble playing is at least 50% of the education most modern percussionists receive.

With more and more pieces in the medium, and – I assume – more and more submissions as your reputation grows, what makes a piece stand out as something you want to play? What gets you excited?

Pieces can stand out to us for a variety of reasons.  It could be as simple as coming across a piece that fits a theme of an upcoming event – such as music for percussion and electronics, or music to be performed outside.

New pieces that get us  excited can vary as well.  We often get excited by “new classical” pieces that cross genres and invite interest from wide audiences.  We are equally as interested in meditative pieces that focus on subtle shifts in sound evolving over time.

In terms of choosing our repertoire, it is a fluid process. We always welcome new works and any composer to send us ideas.  With the limited touring schedule, it sometimes has to coincide with practicality of other pieces on the concert and what instruments are available with the time given.

What’s on the horizon for LAPQ?

After our show on April 10th, we head up to Fresno in May for the California Day of Percussion. We’ll adjudicate young ensembles, give masterclasses, and perform a show for hundreds of high school and collegiate percussionists.

LAPQ recently received our 501c3 non-profit status, so we are excited to be developing the long term growth of our group! We are in the process of solidifying our Board of Directors, fundraising, and long term planning over the next few months.

We are also preparing to record our third album with Sono Luminus. As part of this, we are talking to various composers and finding the right mix of artists to collaborate with to make the album special.  Part of this will be fundraising for a large scale commission, which we are very excited about!

Tickets to see LAPQ this Friday at Zipper Hall are available from $5 – $20 at the door. Full details are up on the facebook event page at facebook.com/events/875741825819987. More info and recordings are up on LAPQ’s site, lapercussionquartet.com.

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