New from New Focus Recordings:
Pathos Trio – When Dark Sounds Collide: New Music for Percussion and Piano
When Dark Sounds Collide: New Music for Percussion and Piano consists of five tracks, each of which is a collaboration with a different composer. The composers were encouraged to craft a piece in their voice, resisting the temptation to write what one might think Pathos Trio expected or desired. The ensemble submits that this has culminated in an album which, “combie[s] aesthetics of contemporary classical music with the ensemble’s interests in dark, heavy, dense sounds drawn from other genres of music such as alternative rock, cathedral music, minimalist music, electronic synth-wave, and more. As a result, each work on this album creates raw, edgy, and powerful soundscapes that will engage audiences in both mainstream and classical/new music scenes.”
The five commissions featured on this album are strong, making a convincing assertion that the medium of two percussionists and piano is viable and should continue to be explored and further developed. Not as convincing is the narrow emotional scope through which listeners remain for much of the album. While the works are powerful on their own, the pacing of the release can feel stagnant, at times. That does not suggest, however, that a superficial happiness is desired, but rather, a courtesy offered to listeners to address that the nature of a project that brings together five different visions, as opposed to a tightly unified story woven from a single artistic voice, does have challenges when considering the composite. Still, When Dark Sounds Collide: New Music for Percussion and Piano is recommend listening. I trust that those who do listen will be eagerly awaiting the next release from Pathos Trio.
With a mission that, “aim[s] to bring adventurous music to audiences through collaborations with young, living new music composers,” Pathos Trio brings together the talents of two percussionists and a pianist. The group recognizes the serious responsibility of developing future generations of collaborative performers. To aid in this endeavor the ensemble offers clinics focusing on the administrative and production aspects of music, performance masterclasses, open rehearsals and demonstrations, and educational performances and workshops.
Alan Hankers, piano
Alan Hankers is an award-winning composer, sound designer, and pianist who has written music for television, film, video games, and concert halls. His music invites listeners to experience soundscapes of great depth and variety that draw on his diverse musical background. Hankers currently teaches music theory courses at Montclair State University, having previously taught at Stony Brook University, where he earned his Ph.D. in 2021.
Felix Reyes, percussion
Born in Brentwood, New York, Felix Reyes is Managing Director of Pathos Trio and is a freelance percussionist living in Brooklyn, New York. Graduating with his Master’s in Percussion Performance from Bowling Green State University, Felix studied percussion under Dr. Daniel Piccolo and marimba specialist Dr. Isabelle Huang. Furthering his emphasis on marimba performance, Felix also received a Diploma in Marimba Performance at the Toho Gakuen School of Music in Sengawa, Japan, where he studied with marimba legend/virtuoso Keiko Abe.
Marcelina Suchocka, percussion
Born in Bialystok, Poland, Marcelina Suchocka is a fourth-year Percussion Fellow at the New World Symphony. She has performed as an extra/substitute percussionist with the Chicago Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Detroit Symphony, and Utah Symphony. Ms. Suchocka graduated from Manhattan School of Music, where she completed both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees under Christopher Lamb, Duncan Patton, She e Wu, Kyle Zerna, Patsy Dash and Douglas Waddell.
1.) Fiction of Light
Composer: Evan Chapman
The album opens with Evan Chapman’s minimalist, electronic style rock work, Fiction of Light. This piece has a meditative quality. The aesthetic feels both current and accessible, while still being able to retain an haute couture personality. While I am not aware of the piece being programmatic, it sounds as if the listener is experiencing the vulnerability and emotion that often accompanies delivering a eulogy. Then, with a surprise punctuation and shift in character, the listener is met with the final section of the piece that ultimately brakes towards its conclusion.
Evan Chapman is a percussionist, composer, and filmmaker based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After receiving his Bachelor of Music in Classical Percussion Performance from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, he has gone on to build a prolific and unique career by seamlessly blending multimedia and contemporary music. As a filmmaker, Chapman – alongside Four/Ten Media business partner Kevin Eikenberg – has become one of the most in-demand collaborators in the contemporary classical world.
2.) Prayer Variations
Composer: Alison Yun-Fei
Canadian composer Alison Yun-Fei Jiang explores the intersections of cultures and genres by drawing inspirations and influences from an array of sources such as East Asian aesthetics, Chinese opera, natural landscapes, Buddhism, art, film music, popular music, and literature, all while creating musical narratives and experiences in a lyrical, dynamic, and storytelling nature.
Her contribution to this project, Prayer Variations, has been characterized as a solemn and gloomy work that creates a dialogue through churchlike melodies. These melodies are initially expansive and obtuse in their durations, but they soon summon energy as the piece develops with faster successions of metallic percussion sounds communicating with contributions from the piano. Interjections from membrane percussion instruments develop the piece further, confirming and leading the listener to the next structural section that is host to new arpeggiated discoveries in the piano. The work returns to its opening contemplative mood, as if to remember its defining tenet.
3.) Delirious Phenomena
Composer: Alyssa Weinberg
Delirious Phenomena should be the first single highlighted from the album. The physical demands and coordination required of this piece add an
expanded element of interest. Four/Ten Media effectively captures the choreographic logistics of three musicians producing sound from a single instrument -watch here.
The piece features heavily percussive prepared piano. Grooves are established from both mallets and performer’s hands striking different parts of a piano, while the manipulation of the keys and strings produce harmonic offerings. In a contrasting middle section, the strings of the piano are manipulated differently to produce a drone-like quality. Members of Pathos Trio even offer their voices to enhance this portion of the sonic landscape.
As is experienced throughout Delirious Phenomena, Dr. Weinberg uses color, texture, and gesture to channel big emotions. She is fascinated with perception and loves to play with form, subverting expectations to create surreal scenarios, often in dreamy, multidisciplinary productions. Weinberg currently teaches composition at Montclair State University and Juilliard Pre-college. She is also the Founding Director of the Composers Institute at the Lake George Music Festival.
Composer: Finola Merivale
Finola Merivale is an Irish composer of acoustic and electroacoustic music, currently living in New York City. She is a Dean’s Fellow at Columbia University where she is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts in Composition, studying with George Lewis, George Friedrich Haas, and Zosha Di Castri. Merivale reports that themes running across her music include climate change, inequality, and a sense of place – both real and imagined.
The place in which Oblivious/Oblivion exists has been referred to as a place that traverses a dimension that spans from calm to frantic. Of the piece, Merivale writes:
The terror of climate change is preoccupying so many of my thoughts, and is therefore the focus of most of my current music. I am devastated at the loss of life that is occurring daily – humans and other species. I am angry at how little is still being done. Too many people are still oblivious, as our beautiful planet sinks into oblivion.
Listeners may be challenged from the metallic smack that opens the work and intermittently startles the otherwise rather pensive, contrasting counterpoint. Metallic smacks and moans evolve into break drum outbursts that seem to have the intention of polluting an already unsettled melody. This tension leads to an unmistakable destruction nearly halfway through the work. After the initial shock of this destruction is absorbed with the aid of silence, an avalanche of siren sounds fades to another moment of silence. A final sonic push doesn’t seem to fully climax, but instead feels truncated. This uncertainty is accompanied by a period of extended silence that is an artistically deafening way to close the piece. Uncomfortable and powerful. Important.
5.) Distance Between Places
Composer: Alan Hankers
Perhaps the beneficiary of home field advantage, composer and Pathos Trio member Alan Hankers closes the album with his work, Distance Between Places. Described as a heavy hitting finale, Distance Between Places sounds as though it is organized into distinctive tableaux.
Building from silence over multiple minutes, the listener is treated to an assumed compound-meter jam session, elusive in its beat groupings, but nonetheless driving. This is juxtaposed to a desolate middle section that consists of a few short solo instrumental monologues. These solo voyages are combined to signal the end of this section and the start of the closing portion of the piece.
The closing portion of the composition seems to take influence from the two previous sections through which it has travelled. Equally influenced by the jam session and short monologues, the final section becomes a greater sum of both of these parts, yet unique unto itself. The listener will have to decide whether the composition suggests satisfaction or contempt with respect to the final ‘place’ where one is left.
When Dark Sounds Collide: New Music for Percussion and Piano is the first commercial recording from Pathos Trio. This album was released on the New Focus Recordings label in March 2022. Additionally, Four/Ten Media has produced accompanying music videos for each track on the album. One can purchase a copy of this release through the ensemble’s website or stream the work on Spotify.