Music review

Music review of Bang on a Can All-Stars at Strathmore Hall

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Can we find a more accurate word than "minimalist" to describe Steve Reich's music? As the Bang on a Can All-Stars' all-Reich program Thursday at Strathmore amply demonstrated, the composer's musical means may be minimal -- layering simple lines of rhythm, shifting a repeated fragment of melody out of phase with itself, varying the color of a relentlessly hammered chord by spotlighting individual instruments -- but the resulting textures bubble and scintillate with an engagingly "maximalist" energy.

Reich's seminal "Music for Pieces of Wood" sounded bracingly perky, its sparseness of form leavened by sensitive layering of dynamics by the five clave-players. In vivid contrast, his recent composition "Double Sextet" -- which sets a live ensemble of strings, winds, keyboard and percussion against a digital recording of an identical ensemble (in this case, a recording made by the new music group Eighth Blackbird) -- let loose an orchestral range of expression tinged with an almost Bartókian angularity in the string writing.

Clarinetist Evan Ziporyn played eloquently against his multi-tracked, recorded self in the swankly cosmopolitan "New York Counterpoint," and electric-guitarist Mark Stewart brought tangy variety to the similarly structured, live-soloist-plus-recording "Electric Counterpoint." But the evening's most exciting variation on this formula was the U.S. premiere performance of "2x5," which pits a live rock band against a recording of itself, and suggests a simultaneous conflation and deconstruction of rock tradition and chamber music writing. Moments of the performance conjured a '60s psychedelic band caught in a mellow, looping jam. But its hypnotic and ear-teasing, 21-minute arc sounded most like a complete reinvention of the genre by this ever-evolving composer.

-- Joe Banno

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