Looking back on Reich: Influences

On Wednesday 6 March Steve Reich – hailed by The New York Times as ‘our greatest living composer’ – came to Town Hall for the second public performance of his new work Radio Rewrite. To celebrate his visit, THSH staged mini-series Reich: Influences, featuring four days of concerts inspired by Reich’s body of work…

On the evening of Tuesday 5 March, Symphony Hall Café Bar was filled with the ticking of 100 metronomes in a performance of Ligeti’s Poeme symphonique, part of the Beyond Classical Minimalism Special. Metronomes, and their owners, had been found via an online appeal, and amongst the participants on the evening were people who had travelled to Birmingham from Liverpool and Somerset, even a lady who was visiting family from Australia! Some of the metronomes used were brand new – thanks to a local branch of music shop Hobgoblin – and there were also a number of vintage ‘nomes present, including one given as a 21st birthday present in 1951. The stories behind some of the metronomes used in this performance can be seen in our blog post here

Earlier in the evening, the audience had been treated to performances of some key minimalist works, including Reich’sDifferent Trains and John Cages 4’ 33” – which was performed on three egg-timers, and enhanced by the clatter of crockery, coughs and a particularly loud lift announcement. A performance of Reich’s Pendulum Music by instrument designers Morton Underwood saw the Café Bar plunged in to darkness for as it was ‘played’ on four light-sensitive synths, operated by torches which were set swinging by members of the audience. Beyond Classical also included a performance of Reich Rewrite a new work created by pupils of George Dixon Academy, as the culmination of a project with our Education & Community team – more information on the project can be found here

The next night was the big one itself, with the second ever performance of Steve Reich’s Radio Rewrite – hot on the heels of its world premiere at London’s Royal Festival Hall the night before. 400 audience members also got to see the composer speak to the London Sinfonietta’s Chief Executive, Andrew Burke, about his compositions and views on contemporary music as a whole, in a pre-concert conversation. When asked by Andrew whether he ever listened to his own music Reich responded with: ‘What is the point in being a composer if you’re not going to write music that you want to listen to?’

And seeing Town Hall at capacity, it was pretty clear that Mr Reich wasn’t the only one who likes to listen to his own music. We caught up with some audience members in the foyer post-concert to get their thoughts on the evening, and a selection of vox-pops can be seen here.

Were you at the Radio Rewrite performance? We would love to know your thoughts in the comment section below!

On Thursday, the Reich: Infuences series moved away from the city centre to the Bramall Music Building at the University of Birmingham for the first of two Jazzlines commissions. Composer and bassist Chris Mapp presented his Buzzoig band – featuring Iain Ballamy on sax, Sam Wooster on trumpet and Tymek Jocwiak on drums- for a mostly improvised performance which drew not just on the music of Reich, but also on that of artists such as Radiohead, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, who all had an impact on Reich’s work.

And the influence of John Coltrane – a musician who Reich reportedly saw perform live over 50 times – continued to be explored on Friday 9 March in Different Tranes, another Jazzlines commission. Birmingham-based saxophonist and band leader Mike Fletcher’s new work takes its influence from Coltrane’s Africa Brass album, and the new work was performed by Fletcher and a group of eight jazz musicians in a free performance in Symphony Hall’s Café Bar.