Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Steve Reich's Radio Rewrite

I really enjoyed the Steve Reich concert yesterday, though it must be admitted it wasn't as amazing as the epically brilliant Drumming I saw two years ago.

The first piece was Clapping Music with one of the performers Steve Reich himself. There's a beautiful simplicity about this work, that must reflect millions of spontaneous creations from tribes sitting in a circle around fires on the plains of Africa. Half the audience seemed to struggling not to join in.

Then there was Electric Counterpoint, which is basically a single player on guitar accompanied by pre-recorded tracks of the same musician, which would make it ideal for a busker on the tube. I love its energy and drive, so this was my favourite.

The final piece of the first half was 2 x 5, which relates to the number of musicians rather than length. There was a certain mwah about it for me, and I wasn't surprised when the applause petered out.

After the interval was the world premiere of Radio Rewrite (above). It was based upon extracts, chords and variations on a theme from Radiohead's songs from the album Kid A, namely Everything in its right place and Jigsaw Falling into Place.

A key idea was that music has historically borrowed from contemporary dance and traditional music and its only relatively recently that the two genres have diverged. Reich is no stranger to cross-over, though most of the traffic has been from him to pop and in particular dance, that heavily borrows the minimalist ethos.

In a way there is precedent in Reich's work, in that the likes of Different Trains was based upon borrowed themes, in that case spoken phrases, reminiscences of the trains of America and Europe before, during and after the Second World War.

Its a different direction to the purer minimalism, with theme development, modification, variation and structure. These more traditional compositions sometimes seemed strained - maybe that's what was wrong with 2 x 5, but here the one initial hearing gave hints of layers and complexity that would reward re-listening.

The final piece was Double Sextet, which is more typically repetitive of some of Reich's earlier works, though actually relatively recent. While good stuff I personally didn't enjoy it as much as the Electric Counerpoint, which it must be admitted I know a lot better, but it got the most applause.

Afterwards there was a brief talk with Reich, who said that he felt that he and Glass were like cleaners, trying to fix the hole that the atonalist dug classical music into. He also admitted that he vigorous deletes material for self criticism, in moderation, is key for an artist.

A very enjoyable evening, and it was noticeable how much younger the audience was than most classical concerts. Given that both Reich events were quickly sold out I think there's two messages for those trying to get the next generation into the concert halls.

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