Review - New Work for The Irish Chamber Orchestra

"Sam Perkin’s '365 Variations on a Gesture' for percussion and string orchestra was written for his fellow Corkonian, the percussionist Alex Petcu. Perkin favours an approach to composition reminiscent of the Japanese painter Katsushika Hokusai in his One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji. Applied to music, this takes the form of presenting a small, self-contained gesture and then repeating it with continual variations. This strategy was used to great effect by Kevin Volans back in the nineties (and Morton Feldman before him) but has since become a well-worn tactic that perpetually leaves this reviewer feeling underwhelmed and slightly put out by the notion that one is supposed to be overjoyed by the fact that nothing much has actually happened.

Such accusations could not be levelled at Perkin however; he pushed this strategy much further than most are willing to go with it. The material that we ended up with at variation 300 or so (I wasn’t counting) was considerably different from what we started out with at the beginning. Inspired by waves, the piece opened with a bright, radiant sonority that made its way from the violins down to the churning basses. The initial calm soon dissipated as the variation process kicked-in and each gesture became progressively more intense, frequently overlapping and merging with each other into washes of sound. Initially, the percussion was cast as more of an atmospheric compliment to the strings, but they soon worked in tandem to deliver a pulsing second half that gathered all 365 gestures into a single extended climax, capped by a short reprise of the opening material. The piece was well conceived for the forces at hand and received an excellent performance from the ICO and Petcu who navigated the modest technical challenges with ease."

— Adrian Smith, The Journal of Music