You don’t really just listen to a Steve Reich composition. You sink into it. You let it wash over you like a spring rain. You soak it up and absorb it.
Earlier this month, EMPAC at RPI hosted Signal, one of the world’s foremost new music ensembles, and the program was a pair of Reich’s richest, most rewarding works.
His Pulitzer Prize winning composition, “Double Sextet,” kicked off the concert spotlighting Reich’s continued fascination with and exploration of patterns and interlocking rhythms. The 25-minute piece was written – as you might guess from the title – for two six-member ensembles. Seated on stage in mirror image, the 12 players are paired: two violins, two cellos, two flutes, two pianos, two clarinets and two percussionists.
As highly rhythmic lines ricocheted off of one another, moods crosscut between scenes in an instant — basically, quintessential Steve Reich. Under the direction of Brad Lubman, the piece began with the pianos conjuring up a distinctly urban setting with their rapid-fire, uptempo playing. The breezy flutes blew across the musical landscape and the churning city rhythms, the hustle and hub-bub of rush hour. The clarinets were warm and woody. Marimbas shimmered like a summer heatwave. The strings echoed the factory whistle in the distance.
“I have undying admiration for Sol LeWitt the artist, as well as Sol LeWitt the man,” declared composer Steve Reich, during an informal hour-long discussion about building bridges between art and music. Reich and LeWitt were longtime friends and mutual admirers ever since Reich first saw LeWitt’s work on exhibit at NYC’s Jewish Museum back in 1965.
Sol Lewitt: Wall Drawing 793B
Reich noted that the artists who execute LeWitt’s instructions for his wall drawings – more than 100 of which are on exhibit at MASS MoCA’s mindboggling LeWitt retrospective – are “following directions in the same way that musicians follow notation.”
Andy Meyerson and David Cossin perform Music for Pieces of Wood (for drums) in the courtyard.
Following the talk, the Bang On a Can Summer Music Festival played a gallery recital that showcased a quartet of Reich’s compositions, including “Music For Pieces of Wood,” which was performed twice – once with pieces of wood in the Building 5 Gallery and later as a drum duet outdoors.
Reich’s King for a Day experience at MASS MoCA culminated with an all-Reich concert by Bang On a Can in the Hunter Center. The evening concert included “Eight Lines” and David Cossin’s tour de force solo turn on “Piano Phase/Video Phase,” before concluding with Reich’s landmark ’76 composition, “Music for 18 Musicians,” a sprawling, hour-long work featuring the unlikely but thoroughly thrilling blend of instrumentation: four grand pianos, three marimbas, two xylophones, a metallophone, two bass clarinets (doubling on clarinet), a violin, a cello and four female voices.
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