Royal Festival Hall, London
10 November 2013
A full performance of the Music for 18 Musicians. From here.
The appealing, popular yet mysterious offspring of dada. How does this work?
This was the second concert of two devoted to the masters of 1970s minimalism. For my observations on minimalism generally, read the first review.
Critics tend to prefer high-minded Steve Reich to the more commercial and popular Philip Glass, but if we’re comparing their central works during the 1970s ‘pure’ phase of minimalism, I’m not sure the difference is so great.
Music for 18 Musicians is no more audience-demanding as Glass’ Music in Twelve Parts, and the effect is similar. The visual aspect, with musicians wandering around to various instruments, is apparently intentional, and it helpfully provides interest during this intense work. But as with Glass’ music, all other aspects of the performance – melody, harmony, tone colour, volume, tempo – varies only gradually.
You could argue that the 18 musicians are more actively involved in this conductorless work than in Glass’, but the similarities with the more decentralised musicmaking of jazz don’t seem so very great. Each musician is effectively a repetitive cog in the machine.
Reich’s piece is much colder, more percussive than Glass’, more open about its Gamelan inspirations. It is also, like Music in Twelve Parts, somehow immune to criticism, at least to mine. I simply haven't heard them often enough to notice significant alterations, or even to have significant views on a performance.
All I can note is that I can't pay the same attention to this music as I can with say, a similarly long-spanned Bruckner symphony.
Some short experimental pieces set the scene. Though slight, all were interesting, and made the links between minimalism and dada explicit. That even ‘pure’ minimalism is popular, as heard in these two concerts, should not mislead us over its revolutionary approach to music.