After some one-off studio LPs for a variety of imprints, composer Steve Reich found his first label “home” with ECM Recordings (his second, Nonesuch, came after this triptych of recordings). Initially known primarily as a jazz label, ECM had decided to diversify its offerings to include classical artists such as Reich and Meredith Monk. The first of Reich’s ECM recordings, Music for Eighteen Musicians, sold more than 100,000 copies, which certainly encouraged producer Manfred Eicher to continue to take on ambitious classical projects, ultimately starting the New Series in 1984 to present Tabula Rasa, the first recording in a long term collaboration with Arvo Pärt.
The Reich reissues contain an informative set of liner notes by Paul Griffiths, who helps to provide valuable context for these works as part of Reich’s output. Music for Eighteen Musicians is a totemic Reich work, and the performance here is authoritative, lively, and dramatically paced. Its successor, Music for Large Ensemble, luxuriates in an expanded sonic palette with a greater number of winds and strings. Violin Phase is a holdover from Reich’s early style of patterned “phase music,” while Octet hews close to Music for Eighteen, providing a taut sound world filled with contrapuntal excursions set against Reich’s ubiquitous ostinatos. Whereas Violin Phase is a backward glance, Tehillim looks forward to Reich’s many texted works of the 1980s and beyond. That said, its use of canonic drums and clapping also bring it full circle to the composer’s early experiments. Another connection: the titular psalm texts are rendered by four sopranos, put in a similar register to that of the singers in Music for Eighteen Musicians. While also sustaining substantial growth and departures, Reich’s repertoire is filled with connections such as these. The ECM box may not tell the full story of his music, but it sketches the outlines of its trajectory in admirable fashion.
Steve Reich turns 80 today. I can’t think of a better way to fete the composer on record than DG’s recent reissue of the 1974 recording of Drumming. Performed by Reich and “Musicians,” it presents one of the seminal works in his catalog. Drumming rounded out the first “phase” of his career (sorry, couldn’t resist), and it was followed by pieces that explore intricate pitch relationships and, from the 1980s onward, an increased interest in historical context and dramatic narrative. The triple LP set also contains the vital works Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ and Six Pianos.
A new piece by Reich will be unveiled at Carnegie Hall on November 1st. Thus, he remains an imposing presence in the field of contemporary classical music. Happy birthday Mr. Reich, and many more.
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.
New York-based new music collective West 4th (aka W4) are garnering a wonderful reputation in being very active and decisively creative in concepts for their concert series. This coming June 8th, they will put on an all-cello program titled “Cellophilia” where they will feature music not just for solo cello, but for multiple cellos of 2-8 at a time. There are eight cellists scheduled to appear, among them are Mariel Roberts, who is also a co-producer of the concert, and Bang On a Can All-Stars’ Ashley Bathgate.
The concert is being funded via Kickstarter. Please click here or on the link at the bottom to donate.
Composer and W4 co-founder Molly Herron (pictured second from left; although her music is not featured in this concert, she’s also co-producer for the show) and cellist Mariel Roberts (pictured below) both sat down and spoke to me via Skype about the upcoming concert. “It was basically an idea”, stated Molly. “We like to do themes for our concerts, give something to tie it together with something to sink your teeth into, and so the theme for this concert was just ‘works for cello ensemble’. We’ve got a couple of solos on there, but it’s mostly groups of cellos. We’ve got 2 octets, a septet, a quartet, two duets–We just wanted to get together big hunks of cellos, and create new music together”.
The works that are scheduled to be performed (along with pieces by W4’s charter members Matt Frey and Tim Hansen) are written by composers such as Sarah Kirkland Snider, John Zorn and Michael Gordon.
The repertoire is a mix of new and pre-existing pieces. Steve Reich’s Cello Counterpoint makes a rare appearance, and was perfect for a concert of this criteria.
Molly explains. “We really wanted to do the Reich piece for eight cellos, which is so rarely done live with everybody there, and Mariel really helped us a lot with what was already established”. Read the rest of this entry »
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Steve Reich and Music for 18 Musicians comes to Disney Hall on Jan. 17
For the LA Weekly, I compiled a list of what appear to be the best classical music events next year in Los Angeles. (Of course, the 2012-13 seasons haven’t been announced yet, so there will likely be events in the fall that I’ll be crazy about, and REDCAT had not published its Winter/Spring concert schedule by the time I turned my copy into my editors)
Just about all my picks involve 20th/21st century music (there’s lots of pre-20th century music at Ojai, and although Mahler may not seem 20th-century to many classical music mavens, over half of his output was composed after 1901). Here they are, in order of Most-To-Least Amount of Regret One Will Have For Not Attending The Event:
1) Steve Reich played by the Bang on a Can All-Stars and red fish blue fish, Jan. 17
2) The LA Philharmonic’s Mahler Project, but in particular the rarely performed 8th Symphony
3) The Ojai Festival–lots of new music, but especially the West Coast premiere of John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit on June 7
4) Jacaranda’s March 17-18 concerts, featuring the LA premiere of Christopher Rouse’s astounding String Quartet no. 3, played by the group which commissioned it, the Calder Quartet
5) Violinist Shalini Vijayan will perform Cage’s One6 and One10 with musical sculptures by Mineko Grimmer (which Cage approved as appropriate companion works to his music), as the opening concert of Cage 2012
My story, along with lots of links and videos, can be read here.
Some observations and amplifications I couldn’t squeeze into a 500-word story:
REDCAT is doing a 2-night Cage Festival, including performances of 103 and Fifty-Eight on the first evening. But from what I can see right now, that and Southwest Chamber Music’s Cage 2012 are the only big birthday celebrations going on for Cage in his native city. Green Umbrella will present Cage’s Concerto for Prepared Piano, performed by Gloria Cheng and conducted by John Adams; the other works scheduled for that program include Stockhausen’s Tierkreis (the “Carnival of Venice” for new music groups) and a new work from Oscar Bettison which is more likely to be in Cage’s spirit than Stockhausen’s goofy Zodiac pieces.
The all-Andriessen Green Umbrella concert looks very promising–2 multimedia works, (the lurid Anais Nin and Life) plus the US premiere of La Giro. It’s worth attending just to see the riveting Cristina Zavalloni, who’s become one of Andriessen’s chosen interpreters
I feel sorry for all the other composers on the above Jacaranda program (Richard Rodney Bennett, William Schuman, and Leon Kirchner)–memory of their music will be completely obliterated by Rouse’s compositional juggernaut, his Third Quartet. There’s a video of the Calder Quartet ripping it up (the West Coast premiere) here. The Calder will also play Rouse’s Second Quartet, but the ending to that work has always struck me as contrived
Jacaranda has 2 other exciting programs coming up: the American premiere of Terry Riley’s Olson III, a work from the time of In C, and a January concert of chamber music by Dutilleux, Takemitsu, Ung, and Saariaho. It was a real coin toss for me to choose between Olson III or Rouse Third Quartet, but I ultimately went with Rouse because the Calder knows the work cold, and a successful performance is certain (unlike Olson III)
In addition to Inuksuit, JLA’s Red Arc/Blue Veil and the two-piano-plus-tape version of Dark Waves will be heard at Ojai. Marc-Andre Hamelin, a pianist I would not associate with JLA’s music, will be performing in the latter 2 pieces–I look forward to hearing what he does with the piece. I imagine he’ll get authoritative guidance from Steve Schick, his partner in Red Arc, and from JLA himself. Amusingly, John Adams’ Shaker Loops will be on the same program as Dark Waves. I wonder how many inattentive audience members will think they’re works by the same composer? Much more up Hamelin’s alley: Ives’ Concord Sonata and Berg’s Four Songs, op. 2, and following his performance of Dark Waves with Leif Oves Andsnes, the pianists will play Stravinsky’s 4-hand arrangement of Rite of Spring (done on 2 pianos, because the hand crossings and elbow bumpings are ridiculous)
I just submitted the following comment to the Nonesuch Records blog in reference to Steve Reich’s unfortunate decision to change the cover art for his forthcoming recording WTC 9/11.
I’m a composer and recently blogged about wtc 9/11 on my Web site and reviewed it for Sequenza 21. I think that the cover is perhaps not what I would have chosen, but that said, who cares? It’s a cover. There are no bodies, in close up, falling from one of the towers (although that would certainly have made a more powerful statement than the current cover with the plane and the WTC). Just as with Different Trains, there are no images of bodies being piled up. I don’t think SR should have changed the cover, any more than I thought the Islamic cultural center a few blocks away should be moved. If some people are disturbed by the cover, so be it. They probably wouldn’t listen to the piece anyway. And Nonesuch might realize that the controversy, such as it is, might spur others to listen to the piece and purchase the album. I think it’s ridiculous, just like the objections to the John Adams opera about Leon Klinghoffer.
When I was a kid growing up in the 60’s, I had a LP set of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 that had the photo of a poor Russian boy on the cover. Given that we were in the midst of a cold war and nuclear tensions, I don’t recall anyone complaining that he/she was offended or disturbed by the cover. I also had a recording of Shostakovich’s 13th symphony with a distorted, Munch-like photo of an old Jewish woman who one could imaging is being burned. Again, no controversy. Nor should there have been.
WTC 9/11, if you read my review and even worse, my blog post, is not my favorite piece by SR, whom I’ve met several times (I interviewed him 2-3 times in the early 80’s for my college radio program at the U of Chicago) and who had an important influence on the direction of my own music. But that’s my point-it’s the music that matters. Not the album cover. I am disappointed that the cover art is being changed. Artists should not bow to convention, even if the art in question is disturbing. Guernica is disturbing. Should we replace that too?
Steve Reich turns 75 this coming October, and the celebrations have already begun. Later this month is a concert at Carnegie Hall on April 30th. It features the Kronos Quartet in a new piece commemorating a more sombre anniversary: WTC 9/11.
In the lead up to the Carnegie concert, there will likely be countless interviews, features, etc.; but this YouTube video is a terrific five-minute distillation of Reich’s interests, influences, and musical style.
I love the segue early on from bebop ii-V-I changes to Steve Reich’s pulsating ostinati.
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 Musichave 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 websiteto 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 Indabamusic.com
Written for the Bang on a Can All Stars, 2×5 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!