Steve Reich visit hailed with an outburst of sound

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Published: 4th April, 2012

Composer Steve Reich is on his way to Australia, bringing with him an extraordinary reputation. The New Yorker calls him “the most original music thinker of our time”, The Guardian says he is one of “a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history”. Steve Reich has been a major force in contemporary music for more than 50 years. A pioneer (some say, the Godfather) of minimalism, he has not only won a Pulitzer Prize but has also changed the course of modern music and, aged in his seventies, continues to excite with his own music while also influencing other composers and musicians.

That excitement is soon to reach our shores, as Reich arrives this month for numerous performances of his music, at the Sydney Opera House and then the Melbourne Recital Centre – with students at The University of Melbourne also standing to benefit from the visit. Reich is “a superb writer for percussion”, says Timothy Constable of Australian group Synergy, literally a major player in the series of concerts he describes as “pretty epic”. The event has been a long time coming, he says, but Synergy has a special relationship with Reich and his music since releasing its recording of his seminal Drumming. Constable recalls that the composer was exacting but enthusiastic about the recording, advising on editing and “supportive of new expression of his music”. Synergy is looking forward to being part of “a lovely, diverse look at works from Reich’s early, middle and later periods”.

Steve Reich is also causing excitment in Melbourne, where the climax of his visit will be a conversation and concert with eighth blackbird and other musicians joining the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra’s director of artistic planning, Huw Humphreys, describes the composer simply as “an icon”, one of a few who “took American music from Bernstein and Copland, and gave it a singular identity”. When rumours began that Reich would be coming to Australia, Humphreys saw a natural fit with the MSO’s Metropolis series, a showcase of contemporary orchestral music.

It was “a sign of the growing importance of Australia” that Reich agreed to be part of the all-Reich concert that will be the highlight of this year’s Metropolis. As to the music: Different Trains and Music for 18 Musicians have each earned Reich GRAMMY awards, and his “documentary video opera” works – The Cave and Three Tales, done in collaboration with video artist Beryl Korot – have pushed the boundaries of the operatic medium. Over the years his music has significantly grown both in expanded harmonies and instrumentation, resulting in a Pulitzer Prize for his 2007 composition, Double Sextet. His influence can be heard everywhere from the concert hall to the nightclub, as it has been from the time his works first shook the musical establishment in the 60s and 70s and 80s. Reich remixes are played by everyone from DJ Spooky to Bang On A Can introducing his hypnotic proto-trance sounds to a whole new generation. Reich’s music has been performed by major orchestras and ensembles around the world, from New York to London – and beyond. Musicians who play it are as diverse as Kronos Quartet, Bang on a Can All-Stars and eighth blackbird, which will be performing in Australia. “I’d love to emphasise how excited we are and what a great celebration this diverse program will be”, says Synergy’s Constable. For more information and bookings go to: http://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/whatson/the_composers_steve_reich_in_residence_2012.aspx http://content.mso.com.au/metropolis-2012