Colin Currie on Steve Reich

Steve Reich is a musical colossus. Of immeasurable influence on music’s development for over six decades, his output inspires, challenges, and above all captivates. I first heard his work as a teenager, an immediate obsession with Music for 18 Musicians leading to a comprehensive investigation of his other works. Forming an ensemble devoted to a huge number of these, and indeed a brand new one, has been an incredible adventure, that has brought together a brilliant group of players all of whom also grew up knowing and loving this music.

I met the composer in 2011, at a concert of ours at London’s Southbank Centre, when we unleashed our version of Drumming on his ears for the first time. Overwhelmed by the direction we had taken the piece in, and delighted by the fresh approach of a new generation of players, this marked the beginning of his association with the group, as frequent adviser and supporter of what we do. This relationship has been of an immensely rewarding nature, as we continue to absorb invaluable insight into a broad range of his pieces.

Our aim is to bring this music to as wide an audience as possible. We are driven by its magical allure, its energy and its sheer excitement. Our own Quartet (2014) is a pure joy, and another fascinating turn in this composer’s endeavours. Fresh, supple, haunting, it is an astounding addition to our repertoire, even as the composer nears his 80th birthday.

This group celebrates all that Reich has achieved: his legacy to music of such incredible width and unequalled originality. We salute and cherish him, and relish bringing it all to life in concert.

Key works

Drumming

“…exceptionally focused, and the result holds the audience rapt throughout its duration.” Independent

An epic, trance-like 85-minute work for nine percussionists, two vocalists and a piccolo player, Drumming (1970-1) is constructed around a series of shifting, kaleidoscopic changes of texture and colour. Over four connected parts Reich explores different instrument groups, focusing first on bongo drums, then marimbas and glockenspiels before the full group combines together for the piece’s climax.

Music for 18 Musicians

“technically impeccable and musically overwhelming” Guardian

Music for 18 Musicians (1974-6) was a hit for Steve Reich when it was released in 1978 on the ECM label, selling 100,000 records in its first year. Scored for a chamber ensemble of percussion, pianos, strings, woodwinds and voices, Music for 18 is developed on a sequence of 11 chords where “one pattern morphs into another, addicted to the groove and pulse of the music,” (Tom Service, Guardian).

Sextet

“Powerfully dark, the bowed notes of the two vibraphones glowing over dangerously coiled patterns in the pianos.” Daily Telegraph

Scored for an ensemble of four percussionists and two keyboard players, Sextet (1984-5) is a five-movement work of symmetrical structure, blending marimbas, vibraphones, pianos, synthesizers and untuned percussion. The work progresses from the bright, virtuosic outer movements to a thumping, staccato middle section, via more contemplative inner movements.

Quartet

“played with an unassuming virtuosity and a well-nigh faultless sense of ensemble” Guardian

Composed for the Colin Currie Group, Quartet (2014) uses instrumentation – two vibraphones and two pianos – that, for Colin, “represents the kernel of the Steve Reich soundworld”. The new work has many of the hallmarks of classic Reich works: a fast-slow-fast construction and rhythmic patterns created by pairs of instruments playing identical material offset against each other.

Clapping Music

“Reich and Colin Currie in winsome duet” Times

At just five minutes long, Clapping Music (1972) is one of Reich’s shortest – and also simplest and most beguiling – works. Inspired by Ghanaian rhythms, two performers clap patterns that slowly move out of sync, creating diverse, shifting patterns. (Main image: Steve Reich and Colin Currie performing Clapping Music at London’s Royal Festival Hall.)

Tehillim

“This is the first time I have set a text to music since my student days and the result is a piece based on melody in the basic sense of that word.” Steve Reich 

Tehillim (1981), is the setting of four Hebrew Psalm texts scored for a mixed ensemble comprised of six percussionists, four women’s voices, woodwinds, electric organs and strings. Unlike Reich’s previous compositions, the work does not centre around a repeated pattern and instead favours a rhythm that is derived from the fluctuating metre of the Hebrew text.

Steve Reich’s music is published by Boosey & Hawkes