February 15 2019
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Music which pulses in the brain long after it has stopped
On the way out of the Royal Concert Hall someone, with concern in their eyes, came up to me and said: ‘Well, what are you going to say about THAT then?’ You see, the London Sinfonietta had just performed an all-Steve Reich programme and he is the king of musical minimalism, famed for repetition and for rhythm, for weaving hypnotic patterns of sound which continue to pulse in the brain long after the music has stopped.
The first piece Clapping got down to the nitty-gritty of what Steve Reich is all about. It does what it says on the tin: two performers, one with a fixed part clapping an intricate rhythm joined by another first in sync, then abruptly drifting apart but always playing the same pattern. Yes, I know it sounds strange (which it is) but the ever-shifting pulses of sound produced by such simple means really was rather mesmerising.
Similar techniques were used in the next two pieces, Nagoya Marimbas and Mallet Quartet where again pulsing rhythmic patterns were at the heart of the music but combined with some magical harmonies and the lovely sounds that marimbas and vibraphones can make.
The concert’s first half, however, was just a taster. The second half’s Music for 18 Musicians really sorted out the minimalist wimps from the diehards. Here nothing much happens – for an hour. Except that everything happens – somehow.
There was no conductor, so how did the percussion, pianos, woodwinds and voices know when to move from one combination of instruments and rhythmic patterns to another? Apparently one of the percussionists changed the colour of his sticks as a cue – but it all seemed magic to me. And to the vastly enthusiastic audience who rose from their seats and cheered at the end.
Andrew Gourlay, conductor
Michaela Haslam, rehearsal director and presenter