I’ve been turning something over in my head for a while now: Chamber works are to poems as symphonies are to novels.
Hearing a composer’s chamber piece is to see their mind at work, the cogs churning and whirring; experimenting and exalting; wrestling and grappling and fixating on something—namely, an obsession—and turning it over and over again.
It’s a something all writers deeply understand.
This past Thursday, I heard Steve Reich’s Drumming in its entirety performed at House of Yes (HoY), and it was nothing short of transcendent.
Synesthetic, mesmeric, meditative… Sandbox Percussion along with guest musicians and HoY performers did not disappoint. I won’t lie—I was worried that including aerial performers and dancers and large-scale digital visuals would potentially detract from the music, or distract. But rather it was additive, truly transformative.
Reich’s phasing technique is in many ways an aural exploration of obsession. Beginning in unison with a singular pattern, soon one of the performers pushes forward, incrementally faster, displacing the initial line by a beat and weaving a texture of new patterns. The result is a churning state of flux, never stagnant or stale, that is at once soothing as it is surprising.
And this isn’t the construction of hierarchies; rather, what becomes is a meditation on what could be if you were to train your mind on one thing—one tone, one motif, one timbre. It’s no wonder I love listening to Reich's music when I write.
After the show, I was in this gooey state of awe and raw excitement. Buzzing with presence and visions about what’s to come.
My close friends know I’ve been saying this for forever, but the perception and reception of *classical music* have been shifting for a long, long time, and it’s made significant strides out of the graveyard. In the coming years, I anticipate more accessible, interdisciplinary, innovative work. Smaller works, more intimate works. More ambitious programming and staging. More of the new, without forgoing the old. (Just listen to what Modern Medieval is doing to get a taste of what I’m talking about.)
All in all, it’s an exciting time, both as active listener and creator. Perhaps sometimes we forgot the intention and deliberation that goes into both these roles. Perhaps we could be kinder on ourselves for even attempting such monumental acts.
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