Conductor: Brad Lubman
Reich: Clapping Music
Reich: Double Sextet
After a couple of piano recitals in Carnegie Hall’s large Stern Auditorium, where the music was amazing but the feeling of intimacy lacking, I was more than happy to make my way down to much smaller Zankel Hall for a concert of Steve Reich compositions performed by the intrepid Ensemble Signal.
Although I have been extensively familiarizing myself with Philip Glass, this other contemporary music giant, this year, my knowledge of Steve Reich’s œuvre is still deplorably superficial at best. So I was thrilled at the perspective of attending a whole evening of his music, spanning from a ground-breaking minimalist work from the 1970s to more elaborate pieces from the third millennium, in such conducive circumstances.
Apparently, I was not the only one who had been seduced by the offer as the concert hall was filled by an impressively eclectic crowd, including a large number of excited youngsters. All hail Steve Reich!
The concert started, rightfully enough, with Steve Reich himself, who was greeted with a rock-star ovation, and Brad Lubman, Ensemble Signal’s founding co-artistic and music director, joining forces for his 1972 "Clapping Music", a three-minute number consisting in the two men clapping and creating increasingly complex and spellbinding rhythmic lines. Come to think of it, who needs instruments when you have hands and a sharp sense of rhythm?
Instruments, however, made themselves useful in a most unusual combination in his 2013 "Quartet". That’s where the two pianos and two vibraphones generated jazz-flavored sounds that seemed to suggest the daytime energy and nighttime melancholy of big city life. The composition kept all four musicians equally busy and the music flowing seamlessly.
According to my unofficial, and maybe slightly biased, clap-o-meter, the big hit of the evening was the comparatively large-scale 2016 "Runner", which was having its New York premiere on Thursday night. For the occasion, no fewer than 19 musicians crowded the stage and kept busy for 16 unpredictable minutes filled with ever-changing harmonies. Starting fast, but quickly learning to pace itself while still enjoying an invigorating workout and reaching a glorious high, that runner made it to the finish line with flying colors!
The 2015 composition "Pulse" distinguished itself by including an electric bass among the winds, strings and piano. The welcome intruder remained relatively discreet though, contenting itself to steadily partner with the piano to provide a rock-solid base, namely the "Pulse", on which the other instruments could elaborate attractive melodies.
Stretching almost half an hour, 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning "Double Sextet" was by far the longest work of the program. Although the two identical sextets were spatially organized in a totally symmetrical fashion, the music was far less predictable. Dependably anchored by the two pianos and the two vibraphones, the rest of the musicians carried delightfully animated conversations, all of this happening in perfect synchronicity while still feeling somehow spontaneous. Steve Reich looked mightily pleased with the result, and so were we.