Performance diary: Philip Glass and Steve Reich at BAM

September 22, 2014

September 11: The BAM Next Wave Festival opened with a month-long tribute to Nonesuch Records, which is one of the great record labels in existence. And the first event of the festival was an unprecedented program of music by Philip Glass and Steve Reich, two contemporary composers often mentioned in the same breath as proponents of music that uses lots and lots of repetition — sometimes called minimalist, an adjective that neither composer embraces, and rightfully so. Their music is often quite dense and full and rich, using additive principles from non-Western musics (Indian, Indonesian).

The three-concert series at BAM was designed to be a historic occasion with both composers onstage playing together for the first time ever. I’ve interviewed both these guys and have been hearing their work and seeing their concerts for three decades, and I don’t remember hearing that they had some kind of feud going on, but much was made of that in the run-up to these three concerts. I chalked it up to promotional hype, but maybe there’s more truth to it than I know.

I found the opportunity for stark comparison between Reich and Glass so fascinating. For all his originality and power, Glass has a pretty small bag of tricks. Meanwhile, certainly for live performance purposes, Reich had more variety and theatricality —

flying mallets are somewhat more fun to watch than people on keyboards and saxophones noodling away at fast arpeggios. Reich performed his own brief piece “Clapping Music” with Russell Hartenberger to start the show, and after intermission he sat in with the Philip Glass Ensemble for “Music in Similar Motion.” But the pairing was pretty clearly a shotgun wedding, perfunctory and rather joyless. Nevertheless, I was glad to see the concert and to revisit beloved music by composers I admire. I especially dug Reich’s “Sextet.”

glass and reich                   Glass and Reich performing together with David Cossin, Nico Muhly, and Timo Andres (not the show I saw)

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