STEVE REICH: Music for 18 Musicians – Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble/Bill Ryan – Innova

by | Mar 24, 2008 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

STEVE REICH: Music for 18 Musicians – Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble/Bill Ryan – Innova Multichannel (5.1) SACD 678, 61:26 ***** []:

What an unexpected musical and audiophile treat!  The strict Minimalism of Steve Reich has probably been exposed to more listeners via this long but trippy work than any of his other music.  Personally, it’s the only Steve Reich work I ever listen to, because the interlocking rhythms and melodies build up so inexorably toward some really swinging jazzy orchestration.  The work has a watershed status in Minimalism similar to Terry Riley’s In C, and its recording by Nonesuch has long been the standard.

Now here’s a big surprise: a band of university students and volunteers from Allendale, Michigan spent the better part of a year learning and continually rehearsing Music for 18 Musicians under their instructor, Bill Ryan.  They honed their performance of the demanding work to the level of the composer’s professional ensemble.  Then they took it and themselves to the annual Bang On a Can Marathon in New York City and blew everyone away – including the New York Times critic.  Their powerful and spirited performance was held at dawn during the festival.

Then they went home to Michigan and recorded the work in 5.1 SACD surround sound in Grand Rapid’s St. Cecilia Music Center and here it is. Comparison with the original Nonesuch CD showed little musical differences.  Perhaps at about 5:30 from the top the original 18 musicians got the jazzy swing element just a little better than the students, but overall both performances were almost identical, except that the addition of the hi-res surround – putting the players all around you – adds 100% to the musical experience. The work, full of Reich’s patented playing around with phasing effects, builds very slowly in instrumentation, complexity and jazziness. The woodwinds come in strong at track 8 and things really swing; the entrance of the maracas at track 6 is another major moment in the work.  Everything is so much more transparent and impactful on the new SACD.  It makes it much less likely to get on the nerves of anti-Minimalists. This is a New Music must-have!

 – John Sunier


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