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Steve Reich (b1936)

Colin Currie & Steve Reich Live at Fondation Louis Vuitton

Colin Currie Group Detailed performer information
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Label: Colin Currie Records
Recording details: December 2017
Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, France
Produced by David Sheppard
Engineered by Daniel Halford
Release date: April 2019
Total duration: 64 minutes 26 seconds

A new all-Reich collection from Colin Currie and his diverse collaborators explores a wide range of the composer's output, from the quintessential Clapping music (which Colin here performs as a duet with the composer himself) to lesser known works for more unexpected combinations of instruments and voices.

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Late last autumn, I received an intriguing phone call. The Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris was planning a Steve Reich presentation—in person, in exhibition, in discussion and moreover, in concert. The composer had expressed the desire to appoint my group as ensemble in residence, with the parameters fluid and a lot of repertoire under discussion. As well as our current flagship powerhouse of Drumming and Quartet (written for and premiered by the group in 2014), some other pieces new to us were being tabled including Proverb and the deliciously fresh and breezy Pulse from 2015. After a highly enjoyable juggling act, we devised a three concert format, over two days—and five works from those concerts are now heard together on this album.

The first music we came to rehearse was Pulse. I vividly remember arriving at the new and truly astonishing Fondation, resembling as it does a kind of fabulous spaceship, parked neatly in the Bois de Bologne. It was an extremely chilly and foggy December day, and, from this bracing start, we settled into the warm glow of this new work. Becalming melodies played in canon, a debonair bass guitar line, ringing piano repetitions: this work leads you by the hand on a deeply authentic Steve Reich journey. Written partly as a clearing of the decks following his rather purposeful stride away from familiar forms in Quartet (which roams freely and brazenly around a multitude of themes and key signatures), the composer felt the need to get back to some roots, and what better way than to recall the ‘Pulses’ of Music for 18 musicians. Fresh as a daisy, this work’s multi-dimensional appeal lies in its extraordinarily catchy lines, and sweet yet often dissonant harmonies: soothing yet occasionally intensifying. We can hear a composer recalling a work now past its 40th anniversary with every fibre of his 80-plus years of experience. Working on Pulse was a pure joy, and although I knew the group’s sensibilities put the piece in a new, more spacious light, I was hopeful Steve would enjoy our vantage point, and we were indeed treated to him visiting the green room directly after the performance as he went round each and every one of the musicians, thanking them in person. I think he delighted in what he termed at the time this ‘European’ version of the work, and we are honoured to share it here.

I also had a chance to get stuck into some of the big mallet-led works at these concerts, and one that we relish and have performed a huge amount is the genre-inspiring Mallet Quartet. Playing this work is certainly a challenge for stamina! I play the Vibe 1 part, and although you get the first twelve bars ‘off’, you play for basically the rest of the entire piece, with just about enough time to turn the pages. It feels a bit like a concerto performance in terms of its exposure and lead-role character, and always warrants careful preparation if one is to maintain the groove / accuracy duality, so essential to effective performances of this music. Luckily, I have outstanding support from a whole raft of percussionists in this group, who are steady, daring, solid and sound, always ready to step up and make something fantastic happen.

A lesser-performed work (and even less frequently recorded—this is only the second ever commercial recording of this piece) is Proverb, from 1995. As a teenage student, I attended the UK premiere of this work, at the BBC Proms in 1995, and this was also the first occasion on which I saw Steve in person, who gave a charming and thoroughly engaging pre-concert talk at the event. I was very struck by the work—it was not at all what I was expecting from my adolescent diet of Music for 18 musicians, Tehillim and Drumming. A poignant trio of female voices repeatedly intone as to ‘How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life!’, the atmosphere a stark yet sacred backdrop of organ pedal notes, gentle vibraphone lines, and a pair of tenors, whose wordless responses cannot entirely comfort the aphorism reaching them from the opposite side of the stage. The final canonic working of the text is a supreme section of music, a cathedral of musical and philosophical inquiry.

Lastly, a few words on Clapping music. One of music’s most perfect rhythm games, I have been performing the work with Steve for many years now and it’s always a buzz to take the stage with the creator of this contrapuntal feast. In his hands it is gently shuffling, syncopated here and there, laid back yet extremely focused, and somehow really rather fun to make it over that finishing line together.

It’s always rather incredible to acknowledge that Steve is still composing, touring and sharing his experience so widely as he begins his ninth decade of life. For me and all the musicians on this album, performing his music is both a thrill and a privilege, and I hope that these live recordings give an extra sense of that cut-and-thrust that inhabits our concerts of this unique music.

Colin Currie © 2019

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