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Steve Reich is Calling, by Seth Kranzler


September of His Years



80 is going to be a very good year for Steve Reich (born October 3, 1936). There are concerts around the world celebrating his achievements, and he will be a prominent, season long presence here in New York City.

You can read my reviews of two recent concerts, and looking closely ahead:

  • October 25: Ensemble Signal is back at Miller Theatre for one of their 6 p.m., free Pop-Up Concerts, playing Cello Counterpoint, NY Counterpoint, and the early, experimental Pendulum Music.
  • October 29: At Juilliard, Jeffrey Milarsky conducts the AXIOM ensemble in early and recent pieces, including the gorgeous Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ, and City Life, which increasingly builds an importance equal to Music for 18 Musicians.
  • November 1: In Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, ICE, So Percussion, Synergy Vocals, and conductor David Robertson will play Quartet, the video opera Three Tales, and the world premiere of Pulse. It’s worth noting here that Reich continues to put make outstanding new pieces that are moving his style forward into new areas of harmony, rhythm, and form.
  • December 10: National Sawdust and the World Music Institute are presenting a concert with Ghanaian master drummer Gideon Alorwoyie and Mantra Percussion, playing traditional music and excerpts from Drumming.

And if you can’t wait, or you can’t make it, order yourself Steve Reich: The ECM Recordings, a neat little box to be released September 30 that collects the first recording of Music for 18 Musicians, probably the single most important record of the last 50 years, along with everything else ECM released (which includes Octet, which Reich later revised into Eight Lines). Consider this an essential part of your music library.

Recording of the Week: Third Coast Percussion, Steve Reich

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Third Coast Percussion: Steve Reich

Mallet Quartet; Sextet, Nagoya Marimbas, Music for Pieces of Wood

New recordings of the music of Steve Reich are easy to recommend: he’s arguably the most important composer of the last fifty years, and because he’s a contemporary, every new release adds to our understanding of his work. That is as true for poorly played recordings and of lesser compositions; the bad stuff sets the good stuff into greater relief.

There is nothing bad on this recording in terms of either the writing or the playing, it is all very good. The most recent work is the Mallet Quartet, from 2009 (originally released on a Nonesuch disc in 2011 along with WTC 9/11 and Dance Patterns). This is one of Reichs’ finest recent works—propulsive, and mixing his developing ideas about harmony and form with this exceptional ear for integrated patterns and syncopation. Third Coast Percussion’s performance is excellent, it swings and has a beautiful sonority. This is also one of the best engineered recordings I’ve heard in years—Dan Nichols set it down at Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center—with a lush, clear presence.

The big piece on here is the Sextet, now thirty years old, in a performance with pianists David Friend and Oliver Hagen that purrs along like a Porsche. The disc is filled out withNagoya Marimbas and Music for Pieces of Wood, the first lovely and the second bracing.

In the liner notes, the group points out that they are among the second, or even third, generation of musicians to play this music. The recording affirms how well this great body of work, and its unique demands, has been assimilated in the current (and future) such generations.

Consumer Reports

Because it’s the time of year you should also spend some money on yourself, here’s another Consumer Reports …

Theodor Currentzis’ excellent, refreshing recording of Le Nozze di Figaro has a spot on my top classical recordings for 2014, and if that interests you at all, you should take a look at his next installment of his Da Ponte operas recording project, Cosí fan tutte. Like the previous release, you can get the CDs in a lovely, bound book, or pay more for an edition that includes Blu-Ray. The set is currently available at Presto Classical, but if you can wait until the domestic release date of 3 February, 2015, the best price is at Amazon.


If you have a turntable, you can enjoy the vinyl reissue of a fine set of early Steve Reich pieces from Ensemble Avantgarde (best price right now is at ImportCDs). The program is Phase Patterns, Four Organs, Piano Phase, and three different performances of Pendulum Music. This is fascinating music that show Reich in transition to his most familar style, and Four Organs is an avant-garde masterpiece.

If you want to save your dollars for something really special, there are two substantial boxes of recordings from Sviatoslav Richter coming out early next year, The Complete Album Collection on Sony (18 CDs of Columbia Masterworks and RCA Victor live and studio recordings), and the Complete Decca, Philips and DG Recordings, 51 CDs. I don’t really need to say much about these; Richter is arguably the greatest pianist of the last century, and absolutely one of the greatest musical artists of the recording era. These are the kind of things that, if you are serious about music, you acquire, and cost doesn’t really matter.

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These are listed both at ImportCDs and Amazon, the former at much better prices, but it’s worth checking out the balance of price and speed you can find through AmazonUK. What you get there is a better price than US Amazon, pretty fast delivery, and the same pre-order guaranteee available domestically: if you pre-order, you get the lowest price that ever comes up by release date. I ordered my Boulez box that way, got a better price than even at ImportCDs, and it came in three days.

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Hitting my inbox this morning was an exciting surprise: the tracks for the newest Steve Reich recording, release date September 30. New music and older music newly done.

The meat is the recorded premiere of his new piece, Radio Rewrite, and strong synthesis of the work he’s been doing with harmony since City Life, his sub rosa interest in progressive rock that has been quietly clear since 2×5 and a subtle, but clear, rewrite of some of the richest harmonic structures from Radiohead’s songs. I’ve got more thoughts on the piece in my review of the NY premiere.

Filling out the recording is Johnny Greenwood’s take on Electric Counterpoint, which is light and strong—though nothing can touch Andrew McKenna Lee’s version—and Piano Counterpoint, a transcription that Vincent Corver made of Six Pianos. This new version has four of the original piano parts pre-recorded, and Vicky Chow plays the hell out of a distillation of the remaining two parts.

This is one of the most notable recordings of the year, and you can pre-order it in a variety of formats at Nonesuch.

(Alarm Will Sound performs Radio Rewrite as part of the Nonesuch Records at BAM series bam.org)