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On Center: Soprano, piano, and percussion to unite in concert of contemporary works

by on August 31, 2017 12:03 PM

Dawn Upshaw, a five-time Grammy Award-winning soprano, and Gilbert Kalish, a celebrated pianist and her longtime accompanist, will join with Sō Percussion, a quartet that “plays with an irresistible vitality” (Washington Post), to perform music by two Pulitzer Prize-winning composers at 7:30 p.m. October 24 in Schwab Auditorium.

The program features a yet-to-be-titled work, written for these artists and co-commissioned by the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State, by composer Caroline Shaw, who performed with the vocal group Roomful of Teeth last season at Schwab. The program also includes George Crumb’s 2004 song cycle The Winds of Destiny, which recasts nine songs and spirituals from the Civil War era in a setting of haunting sounds.

“For the most part, it’s tunes that all of us are familiar with — things like ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah,’ ‘Shenandoah,’ and ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home,’” Upshaw told a Houston Chronicle reporter before a 2015 performance of The Winds of Change. “The evocative and unique sound-world of George Crumb takes the listener deeply into each of these songs. He asks us to really contemplate war, by the way he has arranged the songs.”

Upshaw enjoys international celebrity as a singer of opera and concert repertoire ranging from the sacred works of J. S. Bach to the freshest sounds of today. The Nashville, Tenn., native’s ability to reach to the heart of music and text has gained her a diverse audience. Her modest temperament has earned her the nickname “the down-to-earth diva.”

Kalish, pianist of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players for three decades, has a discography of more than 100 recordings embracing both classical and contemporary repertoire. A distinguished professor at the State University of New York-Stony Brook, Kalish has been an artist of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center since 2006.

Four classically trained graduate students at the Yale School of Music founded Sō Percussion in 1999. The ensemble’s name comes from the second character in the compound Japanese word ensou (to perform music).

A writer for The New Yorker describes the percussion music of Eric Cha-Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, and Jason Treuting as an “exhilarating blend of precision and anarchy, rigor and bedlam.”

The quartet’s adventurous spirit was passed down from influential 20th-century composers like John Cage and Steve Reich, plus pioneering ensembles such as Kronos Quartet and Nexus Percussion.

“Through a mix of consummate skill and quirky charm,” writes a New York Times critic, “this mercurial quartet has helped to ignite an explosive new enthusiasm for percussion music old and new.”

Chick King and Betty Scott sponsor the concert. The Pieter and Lida Ouwehand Endowment provides support. Sō will also perform at a Classical Coffeehouse at 8 p.m. October 23 in Hintz Family Alumni Center. Coffeehouse admission is free for Penn State students; a $5-per-person donation is suggested for community members. For details, visit or phone (814) 863-0255. John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts.





John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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