2022 Event – Seven Pillars
GRAMMY®-nominated ‘Seven Pillars’
Music by Andy Akiho
Performed by Sandbox Percussion
Stage Direction and Lighting Design by Michael Joseph McQuilken
This 90 minute event will run without an interval.
Warning: this performance features strobe lights, and could potentially trigger seizures for people with photosensitive epilepsy.
Described as “trailblazing” (LA Times) and “an imaginative composer” (NY Times), Andy Akiho is a GRAMMY® nominated composer and performer of new music.
Recent engagements include commissioned premieres by the New York Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Shanghai Symphony, China Philharmonic, Guangzhou Symphony, Oregon Symphony with Soloist Colin Currie, American Composers Orchestra, Music@Menlo, Sandbox Percussion, Chamber Music Northwest, Carnegie Hall’s Ensemble Connect, LA Dance Project, and experimental opera company The Industry.
Akiho has been recognized with many prestigious awards and organizations including the Rome Prize, Lili Boulanger Memorial Prize, Harvard University Fromm Commission, Barlow Endowment, New Music USA, and Chamber Music America. Additionally, his compositions have been featured on PBS’s “News Hour with Jim Lehrer” and by organizations such as Bang on a Can, American Composers Forum, The Intimacy of Creativity in Hong Kong, and the Heidelberg Festival. His latest composition, Seven Pillars, performed by Sandbox Percussion, was nominated for 2 GRAMMY® Awards.
Akiho is also an active steel pannist and performs his compositions with various ensembles worldwide. He has performed his works with the Charlotte Symphony, South Carolina Philharmonic, Nu Decco Ensemble, LA Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella Series, the Berlin Philharmonic’s Scharoun Ensemble, the International Drum Festival in Taiwan, and has had four concerts featuring his compositions at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Akiho’s recordings No One To Know One (innova Recordings) and The War Below (National Sawdust Tracks) features brilliantly crafted compositions that pose intricate rhythms and exotic timbres inspired by his primary instrument, the steel pan.
Akiho was born in 1979 in Columbia, SC, and is currently based in Portland, OR.
Described as “exhilarating” by The New York Times, and “utterly mesmerizing” by The Guardian, GRAMMY®-nominated ensemble Sandbox Percussion has established themselves as a leading proponent of contemporary percussion chamber music. Brought together by the simple joy of playing together, Sandbox Percussion captivates audiences with performances that are both visually and aurally stunning. Through compelling collaborations with composers and performers, Jonathan Allen, Victor Caccese, Ian Rosenbaum, and Terry Sweeney seek to engage a wider audience for classical music.
Sandbox Percussion’s 2021 album Seven Pillars was nominated for two GRAMMY® awards. This evening-length work by Andy Akiho with stage direction and lighting design by Michael Joseph McQuilken is Sandbox’s largest commission to date.
In addition to the world premiere of Seven Pillars at Emerald City Music in Seattle, the 2021/2022 season includes many highlights – Sandbox Percussion will perform concertos with the Albany Symphony and UMKC Conservatory Orchestra, travel to Northern Ireland, Lithuania and many cities across the United States, perform at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, and premiere new works by David Crowell, Molly Joyce, Loren Loiacono, Jessica Meyer, Tawnie Olson, and Tyshawn Sorey.
Sandbox was appointed ensemble-in-residence and percussion faculty at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2021, has led masterclasses and coachings all around the United States, and in 2016, founded the annual NYU Sandbox Percussion Seminar.
Sandbox Percussion endorses Pearl/Adams musical instruments, Zildjian cymbals, Vic Firth sticks and mallets, Remo drumheads, and Black Swamp accessories.
Sandbox member Johnny Allen writes:
Seven Pillars by Andy Akiho explores the free spaces created within an organized structure. This evening-length work, comprising seven quartets and four solos, began with its central movement, Pillar IV. Originally commissioned as a stand-alone work, this piece contained a rigorous structure and motivic content that Akiho felt compelled to expand beyond its 10-minute capsule. Pillar IV became the nucleus for Seven Pillars, containing the DNA from which the other six quartets are built.
The macro-structure of Seven Pillars is made up of two simultaneous processes. The first is an additive process where each movement introduces a new instrument that is then incorporated into the subsequent pillars. To balance this expansion, there is a symmetrical structure on either side of the central movement, Pillar IV.
The reflecting movements—Pillars I & VII, Pillars II & VI, Pillars III & V—share formal elements, motives, pitch sets, and other musical elements, but Akiho is the first to say that this is not the point of Seven Pillars. Rather, this structure creates space that can be populated with emotion and imagination. Even the reflecting movements are occupied by wildly different aesthetics despite sharing an underlying logic. While still observing the macro-structure, these free spaces are first seen in the solo movements. The solos have a more improvisatory form, elaborating on the pillars, going off on tangents, or transporting us to somewhere else entirely. They are the skin to the pillars’ bones, but, as we zoom in further, this soft tissue permeates every moment of this meticulously crafted work.
Pillar I unapologetically throws us into the world of Seven Pillars. The building blocks of the piece are flying around like shrapnel, colliding and combining with each other to eventually congeal into a cohesive whole. This extraverted overture is followed by the first solo, Amethyst. Scored for vibraphone, it transports us away from the cacophony of Pillar I into the colorful, dreamlike world of pitch and brightness.
Pillar II is an otherworldly experience generated from Akiho’s reimagining of what the vibraphone and crotales can be. It begins with glowing, amorphous sounds. The resolution on these sounds is made finer and finer as the piece progresses, until they become sharply defined. This sets the stage for Pillar III which brings us back to earth with its firm rhythmic underpinning. Interlocking figures dance around each other and then snap into unison. We are treated to Akiho’s version of a backbeat—in 13 beats rather than in 4. Layers of variations culminate into a fire-alarm of sound that collapses into a sedated coda. The second solo, Spiel, snaps us out of this trans and introduces the glockenspiel. Kicking down the door with dazzling speed and agility, eventually it disappears into thin air as if nothing had happened.
The stage is now set for the nucleus of the whole piece, Pillar IV. Every theme presented thus far is here, tightly woven into an impenetrable lattice structure. Even in its moments of ambiguity, Pillar IV has a straight-faced determination that is unflappable. After this onslaught, the air is cleared with the third solo of Seven Pillars, mARImbA, which introduces the marimba to our palette. Its warm, dark tones are a welcome sound, exploring a more introspective realm than we’ve yet heard.
Pillar V is a sadistic game. We hear the same hexatonic scale that we heard in Pillar III, but now it is used as the foundation for a bass line ostinato. With each repetition, this piece swells like a festering wound. A singular build which lasts the latter two-thirds of the movement presses forward relentlessly, ending with a manic, obsessive, accelerating repetition of its six pitches. The following movement, Pillar VI, is like a delirious fever-dream. A motif like the twitchy ticking of a clock in the high marimba is battled by unsettled unison gestures. The coda of Pillar VI is profound in its simplicity. Unison repeated pulses anchor a high yearning marimba descant. These pulses fade away and so too does the desperate melody. This stillness is jolted forward by the fourth and final solo, carTogRAPh. Scored for a multi-percussion setup (a ‘trap’ set), this solo is a virtuosic display of rhythmic complexity and agility. Titled accordingly, carTogRAPh requires the performer to navigate a highly detailed map of musical twists and turns in this exhilarating demonstration of dexterity.
The final movement, Pillar VII, is structurally a near carbon copy of Pillar I, but rather than stark unpitched sounds, Pillar VII is populated with all the vivid colors that have been discovered throughout the piece. By now, we’ve come to expect the gradual build that has propelled so many of the previous movements, but rather than breaking itself under the duress and intensity, Pillar VII transcends itself. Notes that were dizzyingly fast now seem comforting, and with each successive layer we gain confidence, not concern. This movement, and the entire Seven Pillars, finishes with the performers executing over five thousand notes in the final three minutes alone. It’s like taking off in a rocket, and we all are passengers.