STEVE REICH @ 70 by Stanley Fefferman

May 24, 2007, MacMillan Theatre, Toronto, presented by SOUNDSTREAMS

The concert started with two pieces Reich composed half a lifetime ago, in 1973: “Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ”, and “Six Pianos”, pictured here in performance.

“Music for Mallets…” marked the end of Reich’s interest in writing ‘phase’ music, and initiates his interest in making more ‘beautiful’ sound by mixing timbres of various instrumental voices, and mixing long held tones, vocal and instrumental, with short eighth notes. Here he also pairs instruments, like the xylophones, against one another to produce canonic sub-patterns. Listening, one thinks of West African drumming and Balinese gamelan.

“Six Pianos” is in a style softer in texture. Reich has instruments of the same timbre playing against one another. The blend of timbres acts as a background out of which sequences of sub-patterns emerge.

In both pieces, you find yourself dealing with monotony: patterns repeated until they emerge as shapes, proto-living entities. Their reappearance induces a kind of hypnosis. The variant sub-patterns guard the mind against madness.

The works are percussive. Mallets hammer sonic shapes flat, flatten orchestral colours too, till the ears ring. What emerges in the mind are structures of galvanized iron sheets tattooed with a lacework of rivets: music that is trying to make the best of life in our developing global monoculture.

“Daniel Variation (2006)”, Reich’s most recent work is also global in its scope. It commemorates Daniel Pearl, “the American Jewish reporter, kidnapped and murdered by Islamic extremists in Pakistan in 2002.” Huge gong tones open a sonic space that is pierced by an astringent vocal chorus.

The text is from the Book of Daniel: Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (modern Iraq) is asking Daniel to interpret his dream of terror: “I saw in a dream. Images upon my bed & visions in my head frightened me.” (Nebuchadnezzar eventually went mad and behaved like an animal, crawling naked on all fours and eating grass).

Annalee Patipatanakoon and Roman Borys of the Gryphon Trio, as well as Marie Berard and Douglas Perry, joined their strings to the ensemble and took the melodic lead in the second and fourth movements which Reich wrote in awareness that Daniel Pearl played jazz and bluegrass fiddle.

It is good that Reich was inspired by his awareness of Pearl’s musical taste to write humanizing harmonies into his this music from a dark time.

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