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HomeTheatreHypnotic magnificence in ‘Variations on Steve Reich’ – works spanning the composer’s...

Hypnotic magnificence in ‘Variations on Steve Reich’ – works spanning the composer’s 1976 to 2020 output – Seen and Heard Worldwide


United States ‘A Steve Reich Celebration’: Colin Currie Group, Synergy Vocals. Offered by Cal Performances, Zellerbach Corridor, College of California, Berkeley, 3.11.2022. (HS)

Steve Reich © Wonge Bergmann

Steve ReichTehillim; Traveler’s Prayer; Music for 18 Musicians

Over time, Steve Reich’s music has hewed closest to the unique type of minimalism that he, Philip Glass and John Adams, probably the most distinguished composers in that type, pioneered within the Seventies. All three have, in fact, expanded their musical palates significantly since then, including their very own wealthy concepts to late-twentieth and twenty-first century classical music.

To my ears, Reich’s works have all the time targeted most on rhythmic parts, symbolized by his still-delightful Clapping Music. That brief piece from 1972 distilled his infinite fascination with phased rhythms (shifting rhythmic phrases barely in opposition to one another to succeed in complexity) into an entertaining rhythm-canon. Music for 18 Musicians, which debuted in 1976, exploded the thought. To the infinite shifts in rhythm, Reich progressively expanded melodic gestures and clustered harmonies into an hour-long feast.

The sheer size and infinite ostinatos can drive some listeners to distraction, in fact, however in a wholehearted efficiency in Berkeley, the Colin Currie Group made the marathon into a chronic, sinuous, sonorous dance.

Percussionist and conductor Currie, the instrumental ensemble and Synergy Vocals have lengthy been proponents of Reich’s music. They’ve premiered plenty of his current works, most lately Traveler’s Prayer, the centerpiece of this system, which obtained its West Coast premiere at Zellerbach Corridor Thursday.

Though the rating for Music for 18 Musicians suggests a 55-minute operating time, this efficiency spilled over to an hour and ten minutes. The variation stems from the construction, which depends on cues from the centrally positioned metallophone (a vibraphone with no motor) to alert the remainder of the band to maneuver from one part to the subsequent. The rating asks the singers and clarinet gamers to carry their sustained notes for so long as their breaths can go earlier than shifting on to the subsequent gesture.

There was, consequently, a sense of improvisation to the efficiency, because the mallet devices and maracas established an unchanging tempo. (This required occasional tag-team switches to scale back fatigue by the gamers.) Alternating with bass clarinets, a violin and a cello, two clarinets added extra texture in each rhythm and tone. 4 girls singers contributed sustained pedal tones and chords.

These parts expanded and contracted over the course of the piece, making a palpable sense of waves washing gently in opposition to the shore. At every shift, the gestures from the lead devices began off with just a few notes, extending the phrase as they repeated, bringing in additional complexity and definition. Reich, like his up to date minimalists in the present day, wouldn’t let these parts go on for therefore lengthy – his items have a tendency to return in at about half-hour quite than an hour-plus. However the results of such a devoted efficiency stays hypnotic and memorable.

Traveler’s Prayer debuted on the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in 2021 and made its U.S. premiere at Carnegie Corridor solely final week. Though most of Reich’s work leans in on syncopated rhythms, Traveler’s Prayer shapes a harmony-forward factor of magnificence. Dissonances abound, however they have a tendency towards cluster chords on the diatonic scale quite than sharp-edged minor seconds, main sevenths and different chromatic clashes. At occasions it felt like an opulent jazz ballad, the mushy edges of the orchestration (tuned mallet percussion, piano and strings) contributing to a elegant gentleness.

Most of all, Reich’s heartfelt setting of the Hebrew Tefilat Haderech (identified in English as Traveler’s Prayer or Wayfarer’s Prayer) alludes to one thing greater than a blessing earlier than an earthly journey. The 86-year-old composer, in his program observe, means that it might additionally apply to ‘journey from this world to the subsequent’. The mushy, regular tread of the tempo and the woven textures of the music’s polyphony appeared to underline that concept.

The primary part is about to a standard Ashkenazi Jewish melody on the verse from Exodus, ‘Behold, I ship a messenger earlier than you to guard you on the best way and to convey you to the place that I’ve ready’; and, from Genesis, ‘To Your lifeline I cling, Everlasting, I cling Everlasting, to Your lifeline, Everlasting, to Your lifeline I cling’. The flavour was very completely different from the kind of floating vocal results of Reich’s personal melody for Psalm 121 to the phrases ‘The Everlasting will guard your departure and your arrival from now until the top of time’.

The singers – main with tenors Will Wright and Benedict Hymas – do recite the prayer in Hebrew, however with out projected titles or a libretto in this system it was unimaginable to attach the musical phrasing with the ideas. The final feeling, although, was one among quiet serenity and hope, the sustained harmonic richness bringing it dwelling.

The distinction with this system’s different works was hanging. Tehillim, which opened the live performance, dates from 1981, at a degree when Reich started to embrace his Jewish cultural roots. The large ensemble, bristling with the colours of woodwinds and brass in opposition to the sustained sounds of strings and the composer’s signature fascination with punchy rhythms articulated by mallet percussion, made a joyful paean of this exuberant piece.

One after the other the singers – sopranos Carolyn Jaya-Ratnam, Micaela Haslam, Amanda Morrison and Rachel Weston and alto Heather Cairncross – wove their sound into the combination, their voices dancing in opposition to the advanced, progressively shifting rhythms. With pinpoint intonation and articulation, every singer’s distinct vocal sound combined seamlessly with the ensemble and with one another.

The phrases had been from Psalms 18, 19, 34 and 150. With out titles or a libretto, the small print had been unclear, however the joyful sound in opposition to crisp percussion (clapping, small tambourines with out jingles, small cymbals) was unmistakable. The ultimate hallelujah produced large grins and enthusiasm from the viewers.

Harvey Steiman

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