I am 45 this week and felt a bit old last night sitting amongst the audience. Steve Reich appears to be a very popular guy with the younger generation of music listeners, which is great. Also clearly from listening and speaking to other people in the audience it appears I am not alone in viewing 18 Musicians as a pivotal piece of music.
Following the opening “Clapping Music” we had Mark Stewart on Guitar to play Electronic Counterpoint. Mark looked like a brightly coloured Jerry Garcia and he played a blinder. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy this piece live. I remembered seeing Vermount Counterpoint (for Flute) which works in a similar way where someone plays live to backing tracks of themselves, and I didn’t think it worked very well. However this performance was the highlight of the concert for me, the sound quality was absolutely spot on and Mark Stewart played with much gusto and accuracy.
Next up was Bang on a Can All Stars with Sextet. I’ve seen this live before and it’s a great piece that has a few very wonderful musical moments in it. For me the sound wasn’t fantastic for this piece and I thought we nearly had feedback on a few occasions. Not sure why this happened but there weren’t any similar issues for 18 Musicians.
The 2nd half was taken up completely by Music for 18 Musicians played by the London Sinfonietta augmented by Steve Reich himself taking one of the piano parts. As I’ve said before this is simply my favourite piece of music. I liked Tom Service’s program notes which said “you are the listener; navigate your own path through its labyrinth of rhythmic and harmonic connections”. From the opening “chomp” of the marimba to the final “screech” of the violin it is a mesmerising experience to watch live. It looked to me as if nearly all the same performers that played at the FRH in 2008 were doing it again here.
I don’t think it was a perfect performance. There were two specific errors I could notice. The main one was during Section 6 (the one which introduces the maracas) where it seemed to me that one of the piano players had got ahead of themselves a tad, there was something wrong, it certainly didn’t sound right. Reich himself appeared to be trying to give direction to get things back on track and at the end of the section let out a huge audible sigh. Other than that I’m sure the metallophone conductor chappie got one of his last queues out of time – but I could be wrong. Anyway it didn’t matter they all kept going!
And…. after a very long standing ovation a lady behind me said “well I’ve not seen a standing ovation like that for around 15 years”. Neither have I for a classic concert but then as Steve said afterwards he is one composer who appears to bridge the gap between classical and “popular” music.