For a man often credited as playing a pivotal part in the history of music, Steve Reich is as unassuming as they get. At the start of tonight’s concert, he slips on to the stage, baseball cap pulled low, and with no preamble or fanfare, joins the London Sinfonietta’s principal percussionist to perform Clapping Music.
This ‘minimalist classic’ hit a chord with the listening public back in 1971, and over forty years later – after hip hop, and sampling… and Stomp! – it is no less effective, the simple, interlocking patterns produced by two sets of clapping hands receiving hearty applause.
In hindsight, it appears that it’s a vintage slice of ’90s chill-out music
The duo are replaced by lone guitarist Mats Bergström, who picks out the warm, clean, echo-ing lines of Electric Counterpoint, which in hindsight appears to be a vintage slice of ’90s chill-out music – and not least because it was sampled by The Orb on Little Fluffy Clouds.
Indeed, the evening’s perfectly pitched programme of career highlights ably demonstrates how Reich’s influence has weaved its way through the last 50 years of classical and popular music, justifying those lofty claims regarding his status.
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This is of course given bang-up-to-date affirmation by his reworking of two Radiohead songs, the ‘sell’ which finds a healthy dose of Brighton trendies sitting amongst the beards and sensible shirts in the audience. (Although, being Brighton, the young and hip are rarely more than a stone’s throw away whatever the occasion.)
Reich’s particular use of repetition and phasing is evident in Radiohead’s glitchy electronica, but where the two artists really dovetail is in their use of insistent, edgy rhythms, which either underscore the musical expression or take centre stage.
For Radio Rewrite, the tracks Jigsaw Falling into Place and Everything in its Right Place have been picked apart and reassembled over five movements, creating a 16-minute piece that gives the occasional nod to the songs’ original melodies, but draws heavily upon their sense of menace and claustrophobia.
It’s an enthralling composition, the ensemble’s vibraphones and two pianos driving the sharp, skittering strings during the fast parts, whilst the slow movements are imbued with a striking solemnity. Conductor Brad Lubman throws himself into the task, casting a few funky shapes as he leans into the musical (Radio)headwind.
Conductor Brad Lubman throws himself into the task, leaning into the musical (Radio)headwind
The evening finishes with Double Sextet, the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning track that similarly moves from choppy, bass-heavy beats to passages of bleak beauty. I didn’t want its pulsing, prolonged crescendo to finish.
Throughout the performance there are no introductions or explanations, in fact no words spoken at all – Steve Reich, a cultural giant who has discreetly busied himself with creating musical revolutions, seems content to let the music do the talking. When I rose from my seat in the interval, I found myself in front of the sound desk. Behind the buttons and faders, slouched low on a chair, was the man himself, quietly exchanging tips and pleasantries with the sound man. As I say: influential, and unassuming.
Photo credit: Jeffrey Herman