man made
Concerto for Percussion Quartet and Orchestra


  • Born: January 8, 1957, Los Angeles
  • Work composed: 2013
  • Premiere: May 10, 2013 at the Barbican Centre in London, conducted by Jayce Ogren with Sō Percussion as soloists
  • Instrumentation: Solo percussion ensemble, 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, crotales, glockenspiel, marimba, tam-tam, tubular bells, vibraphone, 2 wood blocks, xylophone, piano, strings

Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times on David Lang’s man made: “At the start, the members of Sō Percussion, who bring vivid theatricality to their performances, sat facing the audience, looking stoic. Then they began, at first in sync, to snap the twigs and drop them on the stage floor, creating gentle, rhythmic ripples. In time, the percussionists in the orchestra responded with scattered bursts on various instruments. Finally, the whole orchestra joined in, playing sputtering rhythms, tart harmonies and thematic fragments that coalesced into melodic lines. And so it continued.”

“A Kind of Ecology Between the
Soloists and the Orchestra”

Lang wrote of man made:

I have worked with Sō Percussion for a very long time now and I know them really well. When I got the opportunity to write a concerto for them I wanted to make it specifically for them, for the things that they have been concentrating on for the past few years. They are frequently theatrical, they invite found objects into their performances, they build their own instruments, etc. I wondered if I could make the unusualness of their musicality the centerpiece of this concerto, but how could an orchestra of “normal” instruments doing mostly “normal” things find common ground with them? My solution was to set up a kind of ecology between the soloists and the orchestra, using the orchestral percussionists as “translators.” An idea begins with the soloists on an invented instrument, the percussionists in the orchestra hear the solo music and translate it into something that can be approximated by more traditional orchestral percussion, the rest of the orchestra hears and understands the orchestral percussion, and they join in. The opening, for example, begins with the soloists snapping twigs, which the orchestral percussionists translate into woodblocks, marimba and xylophone, which the orchestra takes up and embellishes, eventually overwhelming the soloists. This process of finding something intricate and unique, decoding it, regularizing it, and mass producing it reminded me of how a lot of ideas in our world get invented, built and overwhelmed, so I decided to call it man made.

man made was co-commissioned by the Barbican Centre for the BBC Symphony and the Los Angles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, conductor.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra recorded David Lang’s mountain for its 2014 album Hallowed Ground.