Debuting at the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) 2021 is the Morse Percussion, a professional contemporary percussion group that aims to cultivate the interest of percussive music through modern practices and compelling productions.

“The first of its kind, we brand ourselves as a percussive collective and our key aims include showcasing the uniqueness and versatility of a percussion group comprising of mainly western classical percussion instruments and also instruments from the Chinese and World percussion idioms,” said Derek Koh, creative director of the percussion group.

The group’s direct percussive influences come from Nexus Percussion – forefathers of percussion ensemble music, and Third Coast Percussion – a Chicago-based percussion quartet breaking new grounds in percussion chamber music. Other influences include the Ensemble InterContemporain (Paris), Jack Quartet (New York) and Bang on a Can (New York).

“Many musicians and the general public in Singapore know and have probably watched a string quartet, a chamber orchestra or even a piano quintet played by amazing players in Singapore, but there has never been constant productions featuring great percussion chamber works. Percussion chamber music can be intricate and sensitive, yet electrifying and dazzling at the same time. Chamber music for percussion is relatively new as the movement only really started in the 20th Century and we really hope we can bridge that void in Singapore.”

In this annual arts festival organized by Arts Festival Limited for the National Arts Council (NAC), the ensemble will be presenting two pieces of chamber percussion works in an hour concert, namely ‘Haunt of Last Nightfall’ by David Little for Percussion Quartet and Electronics, and ‘Aguas de Amazonia’ by Philip Glass.

Commissioned and premiered by Third Coast Percussion, ‘Haunt of Last Nightfall’ was part of a theatre work called ‘See You Later’ devised and directed by Cathie Boyd of Theatre Cryptic and performed at the Alexander Kasser Theatre, Montclair, New Jersey in November 2016.

This 30-minute ‘ghost play in 2 acts’ draws inspiration from experimental metal bands ‘Sunn O)))’ and ‘One Day as a Lion’, American composer Lou Harrison, and the tragic events that took place in El Mozote, El Salvador on December 11, 1981.

“Little does not shy away from difficult topics whether it’s in his operas or with his Orwell-inspired ensemble Newspeak, Little uses the juxtaposition of blunt force and subtle textures in the many percussion instruments and electronic music to explore themes of power, truth, corruption, and desperation,” Derek explained.

Of the piece, Little says, “I think a lot about ghosts…of things that remain behind as the fleeting evidence of what once was. Since reading about El Mozote, I have been unable to get it out of my mind: how this village, innocent by virtually every account, was wiped out. Caught in the crossfire of a stupid ideological battle, its people are now ghosts. What we know shapes us, and whether I like it or not, I now know this.”

The personal ghost of Little results in this dark and transcending work for 4 percussionists and electronics.

‘Aguas de Amazonia’ by Philip Glass is a large work that has experienced multiple lives on different musical instruments from different parts of the world. Glass’s 12 Pieces for Ballet, originally composed for piano, was arranged by Brazilian musical group Uakti for their own gamut of instruments, many of which were custom-made and built by the performers. This new version of the piece was renamed after the Amazon basin and its many tributaries.

“Drawing on both the Uakti arrangement and the original piano music, we will be playing Third Coast Percussion’s arrangements of four of the twelve rivers in the original music. This masterpiece exploits the vast instrument arsenal of percussionists and experiments with color blends across the spectrum from “non-pitched” to “pitched” percussion.”

“Performing Glass’s music will push us to reimagine familiar material with a different sound palette and offers us a chance to live inside the music of one of the most recognized voices in the contemporary classical music world,” Derek continued.

This new arrangement for percussion quartet features interesting instruments other than the usual pitched percussion found in orchestras or concert bands. They include – almglocken (Swiss cowbells), crotales, Thai gongs, desk bells, cut metal cylinders, glass bottles of different sizes, and even transparent plastic bowls filled with water.

Despite this year being a rather difficult year for music, Morse Percussion has a few projects after SIFA, with its next concert to feature music from Belgian, American, and Japanese composers.

In the later part of the year, the group will be collaborating with two crazily talented pianists for a piano and percussion collaborative concert. Plans for next year’s programmes have also begun, and they include music from Steve Reich and Igor Stravinsky.

“Through these projects, we hope to establish ourselves as a musical group known for its sensitivity and awareness to chamber music making, whilst concurrently creating local awareness of percussion music and remembering our roots that are firmly held in these local shores.”

Thursday, 20th May
Esplanade Concert Hall, 7.30pm

This show is sold out.


David T. Little – Haunt of Last Nightfall (for percussion quartet and electronics)

Act One:
I. Curtain, El Mozote
II. Between the Hammer and the Anvil
III. Last Nightfall
IV. Line Up / Face Down
V. Coda: And there was evening…

Act Two:
VI. …and there was morning – the Second Day-
VII. Smoldering Hymn
VIII. Prayer (for No. 59)
IX. Postlude: The Girl on La Cruz

Philip Glass – Aguas de Amazonia (for percussion quartet)

1. Madeira River
2. Xingu River
3. Japura River
4. Amazon River


Written By Editor

A contributing editor at TBP.