Founded in 1997 by Robert van Sice, the Yale Percussion Group has been called “something truly extraordinary” by composer Steve Reich. It is composed of talented and dedicated young artists who have come from around the world for graduate study at the Yale School of Music.

Members of the YPG have gone on to form the acclaimed quartet So Percussion and to perform with Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Two, the Carnegie Hall Academy Ensemble, the Oslo Philharmonic, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Yale percussion students and graduates have recently won the Linz (Austria) International Marimba Competition and the Concert Artist Guild Competition.

Recent alumni teach at institutions such as Cornell, Dartmouth, Michigan State, SUNY Stonybrook, University of Miami, Kansas State University, Baylor University, and the Conservatoire de Genève (Switzerland).

"Dressur" Schlagzeugtrio für Holzinstrumente (1977)
     by Mauricio Kagel

Recorded June, 2010
Performers: Candy Chiu, John Corkill and Ian Rosenbaum
     PART I
     PART II
     View the entire performance without breaks

Program Notes:

German-Argentine composer Mauricio Kagel is one of the most intriguing composers of the 20th century. Many of his diverse works contain undercurrents of surrealism and anarchism in an effort to shed light on—and often confront—the musical tradition. His film Ludwig Van refashions Beethoven scores as furniture; his chamber work Der Schall employs cash registers and household appliances as its main instruments; and in his opera Staatstheater, members of the chorus perform overlapping solos, soloists sing in a chorus, and non-dancers present a ballet.

The half-hour percussion trio Dressur (1977) is rooted in Kagel’s concern for how audio recordings have altered the tradition of audience experience. “In the 19th century people still enjoyed music with their eyes as well, with all their senses,” Kagel has expressed. “Only with the increasing dominance of the mechanical reproduction of music, through broadcast and records, was this reduced to the purely acoustical dimension. What I want is to bring the audience back to an enjoyment of music with all senses. That’s why my music is a direct, exaggerated protest against the mechanical reproduction of music.”

Like many of the other works in Kagel’s “instrumental theater” idiom, Dressur therefore combines the visual element with the auditory, the theatrical with the musical. Using over 50 instruments and non-instruments, Kagel creates sound out of theater (such as when a percussionist slams a chair on the ground several times), and theater out of sound (such as when castanets mimic the sound of a typewriter). The percussionist is a particularly fitting conduit for the visual-aural convergence: even in the most traditional works, his or her striking a variety of instruments, often while clearly visible behind several seated performers, seems to possess an inherent theatricality.

Interestingly, Dressur has become some - what of a YouTube hit lately, with a handful of videotaped performances (many by Yale’s own performers) totaling several thousand hits. If technological advances in the 20th century resulted in audiences listening without seeing, those in the 21st may help bring us “back to an enjoyment of music with all senses.”
      —Jacob Cooper

About the Composer:

Mauricio Kagel, born in Buenos Aires on 24 December 1931, is among the most distinctive composers of contemporary music. From the very beginning his name has been associated above all with music theatre, the genre in which he has perhaps exerted the greatest impact. Besides his radical innovations in this area, however, he has also developed a highly personal aesthetic in his absolute music.

Kagel’s creative output has been enormous. It encompasses not only stage, orchestral and chamber music in an extremely wide range of instrumental settings, but also film scores, radio plays and essays. Throughout its broad spectrum, his music reveals a breach with any and all forms of academicism as well as close ties to tradition, especially to the German tradition.

Imagination, originality and humour are the hallmarks of this multimedia artist. With inexhaustible powers of invention, Kagel makes use of a very wide array of expressive devices which, although often caustic and provocative, are always placed in the service of musical discourse.

For Further Study:

Wikipedia: Mauricio Kagel

"Musique de Tables" (1987) by Thierry de Mey

Recorded Live at PASIC 2009
Performers: Candy Chiu, Leonardo Gorosito and Denis Petrunin

Program Notes:

Composed for three percussionists who each use a table as their musical instrument. The diversity of tones is produced by striking the tables in different ways. The position of fingers and hands, the rhythmic figures are coded in a repertoire of original symbols introduced into the score. The idea of Musique de tables is to trace the link between the music and the gesture that produces the sound, and to pinpoint the demarcation line between dance and music: the visual and choreographic aspects are on the same plane of importance as the tones and the musicality of the performances.

About the Composer:

Thierry De Mey, born in 1956, is a composer and filmmaker. An instinctive feel for movement guides his entire work, allowing him to tackle and integrate a variety of disciplines. The premise behind his musical and filmic writing is the desire for rhythm to be experienced in the body or bodies, revealing the musical meaning for the author, performer and audience. He has developed a system of musical writing for movement used in pieces where the visual and choreographic aspects are just as important as the gesture producing the sound, such as in Musique de tables (1987), Silence must be! (2002) and Light Music, which premiered at Lyon’s Musiques en Scène biennial festival in 2004.

A large part of his music production is intended for dance and cinema. He has often been more than a composer for the choreographers Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Wim Vandekeybus and his sister Michèle Anne De Mey, offering his precious collaboration in the invention of "formal strategies" – to use a favourite expression of his.


"Village Burial with Fire" (1989) by James Wood

Recorded February 2008
Performers: Michael Compitello, Ji Hye Jung, David Skidmore & Michael Zell
– A Discussion of the piece with Robert Van Sice
Robert Van Sice discusses a few of the compositional elements behind "Village Burial".

Program Notes:

Here the memories are of a Hindu, princely funeral ceremony—for two months the villagers have been making preparations—hundreds have turned out wearing their most lavish and colourful clothes, and carrying offerings of food on their heads. First, there is the noisy procession down to the river for purification of the soul, then a short ceremony, and then the vast funeral pyre is set alight. At this moment it seems as though the whole village has exploded into music and dancing—soon, some go into trance. Gradually the physical form of the pyre disintegrates, and the spirit of the deceased is formally set free to mingle with the spirit world. In the evening, when the festivities have moved on to another place, some mourners lament beside the glowing embers.

About the Composer:

James Wood (b. 1953) studied composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, read music at Cambridge where he was an organ scholar, and later studied percussion and conducting at the Royal Academy of Music. Today he is known for his wide ranging activities as composer, conductor and virtuoso percussionist, and for a close association with an exceptionally broad spectrum of music from the middle ages to the present day.

For further study, visit James Woods online:

"Threads" (1989) by Paul Lansky

Recorded February 2007
Performers: Jeff Jones, Dennis Petrunin, David Skidmore & Svet Stoyonov
  1. Prelude
2. Recitative
3. Chorus
4. Aria
5. Recitative
  6. Chorus
7. Aria
8. Recitative
9. Chorus
10. Chorus Prelude

Program Notes:

Threads, written by Paul Lansky for So Percussion in 2005, is a ‘contata’ for percussion quartet in ten short movements. There are three ‘threads’ that are interwoven in the piece: Arias and Preludes that focus on the metallic pitched sounds; Choruses in which drumming predominates; and Recitatives made largely from Cage-like ‘noise’ instruments. The aims of the different threads are to highlight the wide range of qualitities that percussion instruments are capable of, from lyrical and tender to forceful and aggressive, and weave them into one continuous texture.
     – Paul Lansky

About the Composer:

From his pioneering work in computer music through his fresh and engaging instrumental music of the past decade, Paul Lansky has become a leading voice in contemporary American music. Born in New York City in 1944, Lansky attended Queens College, studying composition with George Perle and Hugo Weisgall and at Princeton University, where he worked with Milton Babbitt and Earl Kim. Paul Lansky has been on the faculty at Princeton since 1969, where he is now William Shubael Conant Professor of Music.

Until the mid-1990s, the bulk of Lansky’s work was in computer music, for which he was honored in 2002 with a lifetime achievement award by SEAMUS (the Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States). Lansky’s recent instrumental music eschews attempts to “break new ground,” relying instead on a fresh approach toward tonality and harmony that references musical traditions of various kinds, from Machaut to Stravinsky.

For further study, visit Paul Lansky online:


More videos from the Yale Percussion Group, including solo performances
by its members and graduates can be viewed on the Vic Firth Concert Podcast page.

Or, you can subscribe to the VIC FIRTH CONCERT PODCAST in iTunes:   


YPG Director:
Robert Van Sice

Robert Van Sice is the most exciting performer of contemporary marimba music on the concert scene today. To date, he has premiered over one hundred works, including concertos, chamber music, and solos, and is in demand the world over.

In his varied performing career, Mr. Van Sice has made solo appearances with symphony orchestras and given recitals in Europe, North America, Africa, and The Far East. In 1989 he gave the first full-length marimba recital at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and has since played in most of Europe’s major concert halls, many of which have been broadcasted by the BBC, Swedish Radio, Norwegian Radio, WDR, and Radio France. He is now frequently invited as a soloist with Europe’s leading contemporary music ensembles, including London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Contrechamps and L’ltineraire. Mr. Van Sice has played the opening concerts for the Archipel, Darmstadt and North American New Music festivals and has previously appeared at the Meltdown, Ultima, and Ars Musica festivals among many others. Future engagements include tours to Japan, South America, and Scandinavia.

Robert Van Sice is also one of the worlds most sought after marimba teachers. From 1988 to 1997 he headed Europe’s first diploma program for solo marimba at the Rotterdams Conservatorium. He took up his new appointment at the Yale School of Music in September 1997. Mr. Van Sice has given master classes in over twenty countries and frequently visits the major conservatories in Europe as a guest lecturer.