Thursday, May 3, 2012


If I don't write something now I risk losing track of this special concert. That is to say, not (lose track) of its importance, but of the format, and time and place. Much of what I jot down here, raves and the odd rant, are for my memory and memories. I find myself looking back, wondering who what when and where, and am often sobered by the lost details. I wonder if I'm running out of (organic) disk space and band width.

The justly famous Steve Reich, a man who 'altered the direction of musical history' (the Guardian), was in Sydney as Composer in Residence last week. Alex Ross says it all with worthy insight and clarity. I can't and wont try to do much more than document the concert called A Celebration. I went because I needed to know about this man and his music having been woefully underexposed for too long.

Margaret Throsby's interview was a good introduction and worth a listen. "Yes, she was good" he said when we had a little chat during the second interval. I came back into the house early only to find that baseball cap sitting 'right there', as Mr R was giving himself a break from the controller mixer not-so-comfortable seats and chose, foolishly for him, a seat next to me. I had to ask if I detected some Yiddish melody in the final section of Double Sextet. "Not conscious" he said before breaking into Hebrew (I think).

From 6 on Sunday evening till 10.20 a full house of an unexpectedly young (I mean lots and lots in their twenties, and younger) was enthralled by a riveting full-on Reich night, preceded by 'The Sound of Four Hands Clapping' (my nick), with Steve Baseball Cap Reich and Synergy's Timothy Constable and followed by a spontaneous and genuine standing ovation rarely seen down here. Everyone was up, literally and figuratively.

Drumming Part 1 (1971)
Mallet Quartet (2009)
Variations For Vibes Strings Piano (2005)
Four Organs (1970)
Vermont Counterpoint (1982)
Double Sextet (2007)
Music For 18 Musicians

Murray Black's rather cool assessment of the night doesn't really reflect the visceral effect this music had on the packed house and certainly on me.

Mr Reich, now 76 if the sums are right, was very present all night after a long week, a long day, and the long night. He dutifully signed CDs at the first interval ...

and as I mentioned was at the mixer throughout the concert.

I though it all just wonderful, this music and its almost primal rhythms derived from the very beat of existence, the life force pulse we first experience as embryos, the pulse of a mother's heart beat, the regular pacifying beat of footsteps of mothers carrying babies, the clickety-clack of child train travel from west to east, seven years worth say, and I wonder about the sounds we hear "not consciously" - the pulse of the subatomic particles, the pulse of the stars, the pulse of the cosmos. This was for me the true sound of the universe.

When you have a comfortably spare hour, be still and listen to this. While I suspect it will be only an approximation of the live experience, perhaps you may get a glimpse of the timelessness and spacelessness this work achieves. It was transcendental. When I would occasionally surface to self-awareness, and wonder whether we had been listening for 5 or 50 minutes, there was no answer, not the desire for it ever to end. But it had to.


Susan Scheid said...

"I came back into the house early only to find that baseball cap sitting 'right there', as Mr R was giving himself a break from the controller mixer not-so-comfortable seats and chose, foolishly for him, a seat next to me." Speaking of dancing with someone who danced with . . .," are you ever one lucky sod!

Susan Scheid said...

Have to add: eighth blackbird on the Double Sextet must have been something else! Interesting to note: we can't get your video of Music for 18 Musicians over here--it's blocked. Fortunately for me, I own it! Who played it there? What is it, do you think, that makes it so transcendental (with which I agree)? Much minimalism (for me, read: Glass) can sound monotonous, but Reich sends us all dancing out the door. Do you know Different Trains, BTW? Another beauty from him, or at least I think so.

Scott said...

Hi- I couldn't get the link. So I had to piece it through you tube.

I struggle with a lot of things. Your interpretation and the music was very nice..."the true sound of the universe".

wanderer said...

Scott, so glad you managed to piece it together. I think it really needs the complete performance and the complete dedication of the listener. It is not 'incidental' music by any means.

Susan, I am late to Reich although familiar, and a fan with some reservations, of Glass for years. That I have Satyagarah on vinyl may give you some idea of my interest.

Yes, eigth blackbird and Double Sextet was exactly that - something else. Remember, I was hearing this for the first time!

The performers for Music For 18 Musicians were local except for Matthew Duval from eight blakcbird,

For the record:
Timothy Constable (artistic director) and Synergy Percussion (38 yr pedigree); Ensemble Offspring (Sydney based new music group); Daniel and Karol Kowalik (violin and cello from Orava String Quartet, Sydney based quartet); Halycon (Sydney four member vocal chamber and new music group); Jacob Abela piano, Roland Peelman (Sydney conductor and pianist): Sally Whitwell piano; Rebecca Lagos percussion (chief percussionist Sydney Symph); Matthew Duval, percussion eight blackbird.

As to why it is transcendental - well, as I mentioned in the post, it seemed very much to do with the pulsing and the tapping into the life force. I was removed from time to a greater extent and place to a lesser. That is to say, I completely lost track of time and that it went for an hour was unbelievable at the time. I was always aware of where I was and that was due I think to watching the performers except when I closed my eyes which I did for extended periods.

So it induced a meditative state in me. And do you know, I now can't remember any of it. I think that's important. It is one of those rare occasions where the simplicity and beauty are so absorbing that either by reason of etherealness or because the intensity of being in the now leaves no room for imprinting of memory that ultimately the experience is remembered not for what it was but for its effect. I'm not sure if I'm making much sense.

Reading the programme notes, there are clues I think. Steve Reich talks about the limited harmonic movements, and that the passage from chord to chord is a simple re-voicing or relative major or minor of the previous chord. So no never gets monotonous; there is enough, but just enough, shift to maintain focus, within and without, without drawing attention to itself, to stop the listener falling into a stupor.

And then he talks about the rhythms - first the basic rhythmic pulse in the pianos and the mallet instruments, and secondly the rhythm of the human breath and the duration of the breath defining the duration of the pulsing. The breath. How many meditations centre on the breath.

And there is no apparent conductor. It all appears as from within. Changes are cued by the metallophone. That it just seems to happen on its own makes it even more organic and vital, and fragile as well now that I think about it.

I rushed to the sales counter in the foyer after the concert. I have yet to play it again. As I said to Scott, I don't see this as incidental music (is any?).

Wow, that was a long one! Thanks for stimualting it.

Susan Scheid said...

Back from Wales, and trying to catch up on what I missed while offline. So glad I thought to come back here! I'm saving what you've written about Reich's Music for 18 Musicians. Interesting, too, your longstanding appreciation of Glass. I just don't get that man's music--though I did break down, at the behest of friends, and see Satyagraha. I'm glad I did, though I suffered through the first act, trying not to look at my watch (you've got a whole fantastic orchestra there, Glass, and you're not using it!). The last act, I felt the music was a right-fit in that trancelike, meditative way you describe for Reich's piece, and communing entirely with what was being portrayed onstage. It's interesting for me to contemplate, among the minimalists, why one, like Glass, drives me mad, yet I'm all right with Reich. I have no explanation for it, it just is.