TERRY RILEY: In C – Carnegie Hall Presents – Sony Classical

by | Apr 11, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

TERRY RILEY: In C – Carnegie Hall Presents – Sony Classical 88697 45368 2, 42 min. ****:

(Terry Riley, leader & sax; Margaret Hassell, the pulse; Lawrence Singer, oboe; Darline Reynard, bassoon; Jon Hassell, trumpet; Jerry Kirkbride, clarinet; David Shostac, flute; David Rosenboom, viola; Stuart Dempster, trombone; Edward Burham, vibes; Jan Williams, marimbaphone)

This reissue of the 1968 Columbia recording celebrates the 40th anniversary of the LP of the piece of new music that launched the entire minimalist genre. It is a visionary work that has changed the whole landscape of new music since its performance in Carnegie Hall in 1967. Terry Riley – known at the time for his all-night concerts of works involving keyboards, soprano sax, electronics and tape – created In C in 1964 for performance at the San Francisco Tape Music Center with the band including the likes of Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros and Morton Subotnick. The usually conservative music reviewer of the San Francisco Chronicle called it “Music Like None Other on Earth.”

The work’s simple score is reproduced in the fold-out CD package.  It consists of 53 very short figurations in the key of C, which can be played by any of the instruments participating.  The musicians don’t have to be virtuosi, but those with an ability to improvise and listen to one another will do best. The pianist gives the continual, unchanging Pulse by striking the top two C octaves on the piano. (Those involved in the premiere all recall she wore gloves to protect her sore fingers.)  Over this pulse and in sync with it the participants play each of the 53 figurations, moving from one to the next as the spirit moves them. (Performances eventually stipulated that none of the players could be more than five figures behind or ahead of the greater part of the ensemble.)  The piece ends when all the players reach the final figure, which usually takes from 45 minutes to as long as 90 minutes.

The music will probably strike first-time listeners as either the freshest and most freeing piece of new music they have ever heard, or something designed to deliberately drive them up the wall – making even Reich and Glass sound like varied rapidly-developing music in comparison.  Riley himself suggests imagining “you are lying in a field and there are cloud formations just passing over, and you’re just watching them form and re-form.”  The digital remastering doesn’t sound any better than the original LP which I have.  The whole thing seemed a bit tame to me this time, after all these years (I attended the Tape Music Center at that time), but it won’t seem tame to first-time hearers.  The notes on the music are most interesting.  Another interesting fact is that – at least on my Mac – when putting the disc in iTunes and thus accessing the GraceNote catalog, it is identified as not In C but as “Had to Cry Today” by Blind Faith!

 – John Sunier

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