American Invasion: Reich Reverberations at the Barbican

[Ed. Note: Composer and NewMusicBox correspondent Missy Mazzoli has flown her Brooklyn coop to catch this past weekend’s marathon celebration of Steve Reich at the Barbican Centre. She’ll be posting more about the festival, and offer a back-stage look at the proceedings, in the coming days. Here’s just a taste of what we can expect to get things rolling.]

It’s my first trip to London in nearly a decade and within two hours I’ve become hopelessly lost in a tangle of charmingly-named streets (Fox and Knot Street, Birdcage Walk and Limeburner Lane, to name a few). London is New York twisted into a Mobius strip, a city full of fast walkers holding cigarettes and coffee, throngs of jet-lagged Americans who you can instantly identify by their inability to look the right way when crossing the street, and a surprisingly large number of old-school street preachers. In Oxford Circus Station one of them shouted to a rush-hour crowd “It’s COMING! This is the BEGINNING!”, an almost comically prophetic introduction to a weekend of concerts celebrating the life, work and influence of Steve Reich.

This weekend’s marathon celebration at the Barbican Centre includes a wide-ranging retrospective of Reich’s work, ranging from old favorites like Music for Pieces of Wood, Electric Counterpoint, and Proverb to the UK premieres of WTC 9/11, performed by the Kronos Quartet, and Mallet Quartet, performed by the Amadinda Quartet. The list of performers reads like a Who’s Who of the American contemporary music community: Kronos Quartet, eighth blackbird, So Percussion, the Bang-on-a-Can All-Stars, Todd Reynolds, and Lee Ranaldo, along with fantastic European performers: BBC Symphony and Theatre of Voices to name a few. But the key to this festival lies in the word “reverberations”—a large portion of the programming is dedicated to a younger generation of composers who have been influenced by Reich. Composer and ex-Battles member Tyondai Braxton will perform with the BBC Symphony, and Canadian powerhouse composer/violinist Owen Pallett will perform works from his most recent albums with the Britten Sinfonia. Dan Deacon will give the UK premiere of his new collaboration with So Percussion, Kronos Quartet will premiere a new work by composer/guitarist Bryce Dessner, and rising European stars Hauschka, Max Richter, and Johann Johannsson will perform sets of their music with their own ensembles.

My goal in coming to London is to get closer to an idea of what the true impact of Reich’s music will be on the younger generation. My sense is that, like the influence of the greatest composers, it goes beyond the superficial or even the sonic, and that the composers who, at first listen, sound nothing like Reich are the ones who are the most profoundly influenced by him. The Steve Reich “sound” goes beyond the interlocking patterns or the shimmering orchestrations; Reich’s philosophy, his way of looking at the world, are just as powerful and influential. He has often claimed that the combination of classical and popular style, a much-discussed (and overworked) topic, is a return to normalcy, citing Bartok, Stravinsky, and Weill as composers who incorporated the vernacular into their music. He rejects the term “minimalism,” emphasizing that what is interesting is the differences between the so-called minimalists. The diversity of this weekend’s programming proves this point; it’s a one-of-a-kind festival that extends beyond a retrospective and takes a look at a potential future.

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