Last night I was at the “Cite de la Musique” to see Steve Reich and Musicians. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Reich for many years now, ever since a friend of mine loaned me a copy of Different Trains. Before I moved to Paris I had never heard any of his music actually performed (too much time spent in remote locations far from anywhere worth being…) But here in Paris his compositions are a regular fixture, and I must have been to at least six or so concerts in the last three years which featured one or two of his works. Last night one had the unique opportunity to hear Steve Reich’s music performed by Steve Reich himself, and his ensemble that have been playing with him for almost forty years I guess…
The “cite” was full to bursting point. I’ve never seen so many people there before. Leaving the metro 5 at the porte de pantin I was amazed to be accosted by people offering to sell me a ticket for the show. This never happened at any other concert I’d been to! Obviously this was a big event. I took my seat with two friends just before the concert began. The lights dimmed, the audience fell silent, and then – all the musicians got up and left. There had been some confusion over who got which set of notes! One of the violinists reappeared and ostentatiously placed a thick set of music on a stand and left again; a few seconds later his colleagues reappeared.
The first piece they played was the extremely moving Daniel Variations, a piece of music written for the journalist Daniel Pearl who was executed by Pakistani militants in 2002. The first time this music has ever been performed in France. Like in Different Trains, Reich scores his music to follow the cadences of speech – this case, words taken from the Book of Daniel; and words spoken by Daniel Pearl on the video of his own execution. The phrase, “My name is Daniel Pearl” is sung a dozen, two dozen times. ” My name is Daniel Pearl”. How could those people have done this thing? Pearl himself was a violinist; and when those words are sung, the string section comes to life, it’s melody shadows the words of Daniel Pearl. “My name is Daniel Pearl (I’m a Jewish American from Encino, California)”. Listening to Reich’s music I really felt it as something vital and living, a statement against the stupidity and pointlessness of the loss of Daniel Pearl’s life. Not all a requiem.
The intermission — and then Music for Eighteen Musicians. For this one, Mr. Reich came out from behind the mixing desk where he’d been stationed before, and took turns at the piano and xylophone. Looking at his musicians one certainly gets the impression that they’ve all been together on this musical journey for a long time. What I found myself thinking was — my gosh! this is the ultimate expression of Steve Reich’s music — by Steve Reich himself! The piece is quite long, and certainly one needs a certain kind of determination to remain concentrated throughout the entire time. For those of you who know Mr. Reich’s music, this one is particularly hypnotic, pulsating, yes, say it — minimalist — but at the same time it is full of all those wonderful contrapuntal structures that a hard-core Bach listener like me likes so much. At one wonderful point in the performance, Mr. Reich and three of his collaborators all play together on the same xylophone! At the same time, I was certain that one guy near the back of the mini-orchestra played the same note for the entire 58 minutes….
At the end of performance, Reich and his musicians were rewarded by rapturous applause. I felt a need to stand up and applaud too. Thanks Mr. Reich and happy seventieth birthday!