2(I,II=Picc).2(II=EH).2(II=Bcl).2(II=Cbsn)- perc(4)-perc(2)-hp-pft-strings(min


15 minutes

Commissioned by/Premiere

Commissioned by the Britt Music & Arts Festival, Teddy Abrams, conductor and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, in celebration of its 100th season.

May 12, 2019
Chicago Civic Orchestra, Chicago, Illinois
Third Coast Percussion, soloists
Ken-David Masur, conductor

July 26, 2019
Britt Festival Orchestra, Jacksonville, Oregon
Third Coast Percussion, soloists
Teddy Abrams, conductor


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In April 2019, my friend Tim Horvath, a novelist, texted me, “Do you know Jane Alison’s Meander, Spiral, Explode? It’s a book that focuses on unusual structural elements in novels.” I always trust Tim’s suggestions, and I tore through the book over the next few days, finding it unique and deeply insightful. I experienced what Melville called “the shock of recognition”—seeing someone describe your own efforts (in this case, an in-progress percussion concerto) without ever having seen a note of it.The three words of the title seemed to pertain specifically to each movement of my concerto. The first movement—while dramatic and intense—seems to meander through different landscapes, where the gunshot-like sound of four wooden slats morphs into marimbas and bowed vibraphones while changing volume, key, and context.

The second movement (played without pause after the first) is structured like a double helix. A rising scale on two vibraphones slowly expands, speeds up, and finally blossoms into a sea of polyrhythms.

As for the last movement (again played without pause): the explosion seems fairly self-evident. A single exclamation point ejects lines of 16th-notes into the ether which return, again and again, to a white-hot core. The propulsive patterns in this movement constantly shift emphasis but always maintain energy.

The end of the work brings us back to the first three notes of the piece, suggesting one more shape that Jane Alison discusses in her book: a fractal. The simple shape of the opening turns out to have contained the entire form of the work to come.

Meander, Spiral, Explode is dedicated to Third Coast Percussion, who have brought to life nearly an hour of my music over the last three years, and the two fine conductors who will give the world premieres of the work, Teddy Abrams, and Ken-David Masur.


Sunday evening’s performance in Orchestra Hall brought the young musicians back into the spotlight, and they seized it, opening with the world premiere of Christopher Cerrone’s “Meander, Spiral, Explode” for percussion quartet and orchestra. Third Coast Percussion collaborated animatedly with the orchestra in the gripping work, its three movements unfolding without pause. 

Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune

Naturally, given the stage set-up demands, the Grammy-Award winning quartet Third Coast Percussion went first. They were backed up by a smaller, 50-piece Civic ensemble that included a piano and a two-person percussion section, which made regular contributions. Christopher Cerrone based Meander, Spiral, Explode on a book of the same title by Jane Allison. Over the past few years, TCP has premiered several works by Cerrone, who dedicated this new piece to them.

The work’s three movements correspond to the three words in the title. After TCP’s opening outburst on wood slats, Meander starts very quietly on the lower strings and picks up speed as it wanders through the orchestra. Throughout this and the other movements, the strings and winds sound a drone that shifts in volume and tempo, while TCP’s four members switch among wood slats, marimbas, vibraphones, cymbals, bells, and other objects played with mallets and bows. In Spiral, a rising tune emerges on the vibraphones, marimbas, and piano, while the whole thing speeds up. Explode explodes onto the scene with wood blocks and other sounds. During this movement, the violins expand the drone to two notes, as tempo shifts. The work ends abruptly, just as it began. All in all, Meander, Spiral, and Explode had a wonderful effect and impact. It created an aural fabric that was both interesting and vivid.

Louis Harris, Third Coast Review