"Seven Pillars" premier at Emerald City Music

Reviews, Live Shows

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Inspiring composition, mind-blowing performance

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191013 Oregon Symphony premier of Andy Akiho Percussion Concerto

My new favorite piece of classical music.

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Welcome. Stay and think.

"Seven Pillars" premier at Emerald City Music

I feel so lucky to have seen the world premier of this incredible piece, performed by an incredible quartet.  "Seven Pillars" is the newest composition by Andy Akiho, and it's an inspiring adventure.  It was commisioned by Brooklyn's Sandbox Percussion, who have spent the last two years focused intently on the piece.  Minh and I saw a draft of Pillars 1~4 in February, 2019, and the subsequent pandemic lockdown only intensified the group's focus.  The finished piece is perhaps the most engaging, wide-ranging, utterly unique masterwork for percussion that I've ever seen.

Others agree.  Even before the program began, the excitement was palpable.  Some of those in attendance knew Andy -- the audience was full of musician and friends from across the country -- and we've followed him working on various parts of Pillars for years.  Others read the recent, lauditory reviews in Seattle Times and New York Times, or heard that both the composition and performance are now Grammy nominated.  In fact, the buzz has been so positive that a few days prior, when Minh and I wandered into a clothing store and mentioned we were in town to see "Seven Pillars", the shop owner said, "Oh the one with the cigarbox... I read about that!"

So there was a buzz from the start.  The buzz continued throughout the performance.  Although we knew not to applaud between the movements, we struggled to maintain the etiquette.  An occasional whoop slipped out, presumably from a percussionist ready to pop, and the rest of us resisted clapping by happily fidgeting and glancing at our neighbors.  What pleased me most was the head bobbing.  I would glance over at Andy sitting across the hall, quietly head-banging himself, and then to the audience sitting ahead of me, doing the same.  I went up to a man after the show and told him I appreciated the way he was feeling the music.  "I'm a conductor, and how could you not?!" he said.

Minh and I had heard the recording of "Seven Pillars" back in June.  It's an exciting CD, but the live version showcases physicality and virtuosity in a way that's absolutely thrilling.  The composition is a treasure trove of clever percussion techniques with which the Sandbox players demonstrate remarkable facility.  To be honest, it was a bit frustrating that it's so good.  A premier need not be so tight and confident.  With something this challenging, you'd be forgiven for ...  Seeing it live also made the overall structure clearer to me.


(like a tennis match)

I hadn't seen this level of rhythmic engagement in an audience since seeing Hiatus Coyote live.


Audience reaction
- palpable excitement, unable to hold back applause
- at the 80-minute mark, still straining to see everything
- heads bobbing to Andy's odd rhythms
- immediate standing ovation

overall dynamic, emotional flow

introduction of instruments and techniques

- to simultaneously do more with existing instruments, and to not be afraid to add more things to hit