Two months ago I saw a concert of Steve Reich and Philip Glass at BAM with my friend Mark (the same Mark with whom I saw Steve Reich at Columbia back in May). The concert opened with Reich's Four Organs followed by a bunch of Glass pieces. Perhaps you can tell I was there for the Reich and not so much the Glass. I ran into another band friend, Steve, who felt the opposite (but this was before the concert).
The entire second act was Music For 18 Musicians. During intermission, I asked Mark how long the piece was, and when he told me it was an hour, I ran to the bathroom. Upon my return, in the remaining minutes before the second act began, I worried that I wouldn't be able to sit still through an hour of repetitive minimalist music. I needn't have worried.
It was two months ago, but I'm going to attempt to share with you 18 thoughts about Music For 18 Musicians:
- Sitting up in the balcony was ideal for this piece. The 18 musicians and their instruments (most of which were mallet and keyboard percussion) filled the stage like an orchestra, and watching the movement of the musicians between the instruments was a big part of the experience.
- The 18 musicians don't all play constantly, but at one point when everyone on stage was playing I counted, and I SWEAR there were 19 of them.
- Having heard the piece before, I assumed the voices were at least a little processed (I thought perhaps a pulse was added), but watching their heads bob in front of the microphones you can see the vocalists are beating out constant rhythms like everyone else.
- One of the constants throughout was a pulse on the marimba made by one guy playing on the beat and the other guy doing off-beats. Musicians relieved each other from time to time, but they definitely played for minutes on end. I would never want to be the off-beats guy.
- The vibraphone was centrally situated on the stage, representative of its central role in the piece. While everyone else is beating out quarter note pulses and repeating eighth note patterns (assuming the piece is in 6/4), the vibraphone bides its time, and then plays a series of four or five sustained chords or octaves, whereupon the entire ensemble shifts into a new section of the piece. The vibraphone (played by the same person throughout, as I recall) has all the power.
- There was a female pianist at upper stage right who was all by herself. Everyone else seemed to be close to at least one other musician except her.
- Like any good ensemble, all of the little moving parts combine to create a single machine. The result is a wash of sound that gradually changes, subtlely bringing you along for the ride.
- The ensemble performing the piece was Steve Reich and Musicians, a group that has been performing together for nearly fifty years.
- There was no conductor! The performance was flawless.
Okay, if I try to keep going this list is going to degrade into things like, "The walls were pretty," and "I was really glad I peed first." Nine is good. That's one thing per two musicians. Next time I won't wait two months before writing the review.