Songs: Music for 18 Musicians (two excerpts) [composer: Steve Reich]
Recorded at Massey Hall (Steve Reich at 80), April 14, 2016.
The centrepiece of Soundscapes' season (with a series of spin-off concerts and other associated events) saw the new music ensemble upsize to a nearly sold-out Massey Hall for this celebration of American composer Steve Reich. Reich lead the evening off himself in a performance of Clapping Music (1972) with Russell Hartenberger — a most minimal act of minimalism from the sound of two sets of hands each clapping out a simple rhythm which slowly shifts for one of the players through a series of repetitions. That elemental percussive act was elaborated upon in the expansive Tehillim (1981) with a quartet of voices and further percussion adding layers of abstracted praise song.
The night's second half was given over to the epic Music for 18 Musicians (1976), a sustained rhythmic exercise in subtly-shifting textures. This performance came out at the longer end of the spectrum of performances of the piece at seventy-two minutes, which is a lot of time for the Reich Curve to rise and fall, rise and fall. Seeing this live involved grooving to the piece on two different (and sometimes contradictory) levels: the trance-inducing rhythms of the gloriously phasing pulses encouraging zone-out bliss while the fact of the performance itself constantly engaging one's attention. To the latter, it was fascinating to see how the eighteen musicians1, playing without a conductor, handled the heroic regularity that the piece demanded, through musical and physical cues as well as an elaborately-choreographed rotation system that saw musicians trade off spots (and musical duties) as the piece progressed. Fascinating and absorbing — and the piece sounded pretty good in the old house on Shuter, which can sometimes be an acoustically-underwhelming boomy room.
1 There was a fascinating mix of musicians in the ensemble, drawing from from the local New Music scene and beyond. For the record, the eighteen musicians were:
- Lesley Bouza, voice
- Michelle DeBoer, voice
- Carla Huhtanen, voice
- Laura Pudwell, voice
- Anthony Thompson, clarinet/bass clarinet
- Lori Freedman, clarinet/bass clarinet
- Jesse Zubot, violin
- David Hetherington, cello
- Simon Docking, piano
- Gregory Oh, piano
- Tania Gill, piano
- Stephanie Chua, piano
- Ryan Scott, percussion
- Russell Hartenberger, percussion
- Garry Kvistad, percussion
- Bob Becker, percussion
- Michelle Colton, percussion
- Haruka Fujii, percussion