Signal plays Reich at Miller Theatre

Opening Night at Miller Theater

Steve Reich Photo: Jeffrey Herman

Steve Reich
Photo: Jeffrey Herman

On September 15, Ensemble Signal, conducted by Brad Lubman, presented an all-Steve Reich program to open the season at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre. There was a sold out crowd, populated both by contemporary music devotees and over 200 Columbia students. Reich turns eighty later this year, and this is one of the many birthday concerts that will fete the composer.


Signal has recorded several albums of Reich’s music, including a 2016 release on Harmonia Mundi that features his Double Sextet and Radio Rewrite, recent works that demonstrate the undiminished energy and invention of their creator. The Miller Theatre concert focused on two sets of “variations,” composed in the prior decade: Daniel Variations (2006) and You Are Variations (2004). The amplified ensemble featured a superlative small complement of singers, a string quintet, a quartet of grand pianos, and a bevy of percussion and wind instruments. They were recording the concert, one hopes for subsequent release.


Daniel Variations is, in terms of instrumentation, the slightly smaller of the two. Alongside the aforementioned piano/percussion group, Reich employs a quartet of vocalists (two sopranos and two tenors, singing in a high tessitura for much of the piece), string quartet, and two clarinets. There are two textual sources for the piece. The first are the words of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who, while reporting on the conflict in Pakistan in 2002, was captured and killed by Islamic extremists. These are offset by quotations from the Book of Daniel, a text from the Old Testament of the Bible. The texts underscore Pearl’s Judaism and also his love of music (he was an amateur string player). Indeed, the last movement of the piece, “I sure hope Daniel likes my music, when the day is done,” is a trope on a Stuff Smith song, “I Sure Hope Gabriel Likes My Music,” found in Pearl’s record collection after his death.


You Are Variations finds Reich exploring texts from his spiritual roots, including Psalm 16, quotes from the Talmud, the Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and Wittgenstein (Reich’s undergraduate thesis subject). Musical quotes are diverse as well, ranging from L’Homme Arme to a song by James Brown. The harmony is prevailingly in D mixolydian but unorthodox bass progressions and layering often give it a polytonal feel. From where I was sitting, the vocals seemed a little recessed in favor of the winds, something that I am confident can be worked out in subsequent mixing of the projected recording. It still worked live, giving the impression that the singers were sometimes supported by the ensemble and sometimes vying in a struggle for discernment of the weighty texts.


Lubman conducts Reich’s work with the authority of someone who has both an intimate knowledge of the scores and of the formidable musicians at his disposal. Reich seemed to approve. Taking the stage with trademark baseball cap firmly planted on his head, he volubly demonstrated his pleasure to everyone from Lubman to the sound designer. The percussionists, in particular, beamed as they accepted his greetings: they had done right by Reich.

Steve Reich 2×5 Remix Contest

Steve Reich

Remixers start your … laptops. Some hot-off-the-presses news about a contest beginning at noon TODAY!

Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Steve Reich, Nonesuch Records, and Indaba Music have launched a search for collaborators to remix the third movement from Reich’s 2×5. Paired with his Pulitzer prizewinning Double Sextet, the work appears on Reich’s new Nonesuch CD.

For four weeks beginning October 12, 2010 at noon, remixers can visit Indaba’s website to create their own version of the movement.

From November 9 to 23, fans and a panel of judges including Reich will review the submissions. Winners will be announced on December 7th. In addition to a grand prize and 2 runners-up selected by the jury, 10 honorable mentions will be selected by the public.

All jury selections will receive prizes, as follows:

Grand Prize (1)


Signed copy of Double Sextet/2×5 CD

Signed copy of Double Sextet score

One-year free Platinum membership to

Runners-Up (2)

Signed copy of Double Sextet/2×5 CD

Signed copy of Double Sextet score

3-month Platinum membership to

Honorable Mentions (10)

Signed copy of Double Sextet/2×5 CD

Signed copy of Double Sextet score

3-month Pro memberships to


Written for the Bang on a Can All Stars2×5 is Reich’s most overt foray into rock instrumentation to date. In my preview of the album, I noted that Reich’s collaboration with BoaC was “An intergenerational summit – minimalist elder statesman meets post-minimal/totalist ace performers – that, in terms of importance, is more or less the Downtown version of Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.”

Now, another layer of creators will season the mix – I’m excited to hear the results!