There are an elite few who can qualify as revolutionary when it comes to discussing composers from the postwar era.
Terry Riley, John Cage, John Adams and Philip Glass are all names that are worthy of the recognition, but none more so than Steve Reich. On the crux of his 80th birthday (and the eve of the US Presidential Election), he’s taken a selection of his most notable works to the Cambridge Corn Exchange for a recital.
The most noticeable aspect to the performance is how it evolves; the ordering of the pieces is put together in such a way that it becomes a metaphor for the evolution of music in itself. The first piece, ‘Clapping Music’, is a fundamental display of how literally two humans can create a polyrhythmic beat using only their hands. The next piece, ‘Music for Pieces of Wood’, takes the theory one step further, integrating six individual performers, who play clave patterns that weave in and out of various times signatures throughout and 11 minute-long piece. It builds, hypnotically.
The third piece (the final of the first half) is a sextet of Marimba players. The piece again builds on from the previous, and doubles in length. The progression of each piece in dexterity and length not only shows the evolution of musicality, but comments on Reich’s own flourishing ability that just blossomed over the years as he experimented with more and more ideas. The harmonising and overlapping leitmotifs in this piece become somewhat magical, as it draws to a close.
The second half of the evening is Reich’s masterpiece in it’s entirety. ‘Music For 18 Musicians’ is played in it’s full hour-long glory. The ensemble of four pianists, six glockenspiel/marimba players, four vocalists and two woodwind players is the pinnacle of Reich’s career as a composer. Each development becomes even more intriguing than the last, and the ensemble takes it in calculated turns to gradually crescendo into each other’s notes.
The evening exhibited Reich’s formidable output, and stapled his reputation as one of the finest modern composers ever to have lived. His music resonates tonight with existing fans, and for others who’ve come to learn more about him, they’ve walked away with the understanding as to why he should be so highly regarded as the godfather of minimalist composition.
Words by Jack Stevens