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Concert Review

Steve Reich

Eighth Blackbird

Steve Reich @ 80

  • Sextet
  • Music for 18 Musicians
Eighth Blackbird & Third Coast Percussion
Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor 18 March 2017

This review is going to be relatively brief. Firstly, Reich's music, wonderful as it is, only allows for so much leeway and those who perform Reich usually well usually sound near-definitive. Secondly, there are really smart musical people out there who know more about Reich than I do, and they can probably tell you everything you want to know. Also, they can probably tell you things you couldn't care less about, but there's musicians for you.

In all seriousness, it's all too easy – and terribly lazy to boot – to pooh-pooh Reich's music as repetitive, irrelevant, or both. The fact is that those people will likely be forgotten long before this music is, but first impressions die hard. This is music that was booed off stages for years, which honestly makes it more controversial than say, The Rite of Spring. Whereas Stravinsky's masterpiece is now firmly cemented in Western culture, even at 80 you get the feeling that Reich still hasn't gotten his due. But hey, waiting worked for Mahler, right?

Part of the problem is that Reich records his music exclusively with Nonesuch, a full-priced label that also works with jazz and other genres. He also works almost exclusively with ensembles who promote that dreaded "modern" music, and so it's not like there's a budget issue from Salonen on Sony (which would likely be excellent, by the way). Finally, I'm convinced that Reich live is one of the coolest things imaginable, while Reich on disc is equally great but a good deal harder to focus on. And one of the things – two, rather – that help make this music great live are Eighth Blackbird and Third Coast Percussion.

Put simply, these musicians gave wholly committed and powerfully engaged performances that screamed conviction. Physically, emotionally, and musically, these performances rank among the most passionate and exciting I have yet witnessed. The flawless transitions, machine-like attacks that somehow retain humane warmth… it's all here. The occasional missed note (in Music for 18, since Sextet was practically flawless) mattered not a bit. You could tell that these performers believed in every bar, and so the repetition was countered by sheer energy and drive. There are probably no finer performers out there for this music, and the two hours simply flew by. Thank you, University Musical Society. Happy birthday, Steve.

Copyright © 2017, Brian Wigman

Trumpet