Today is the day I should have bought a lottery ticket. I walked down into the subway station, no rush, simply a calm entry. On the platform I readied myself with my reading material and my music. As I finished, the train was pulling into the station. The day was beginning magically. At the point when the doors of the subway car opened, I turned on my iPod, stepped into the car and Steve Reich’s Music for Large Ensemble began to play. This was a good beginning, if there could ever be such a thing in the morning, during rush hour, on a packed train, heading into work. With Reich playing in my ears at a dangerously high decibel, I was fortified.
I discovered Steve Reich in the 80’s. It was a confluence of events: seeing Laura Dean’s dance troupe perform in Detroit (she and Reich worked together at this point), then meeting Glen Velez who was a performer with Steve Reich early on. I didn’t know then but minimalism was in its heyday in the early 80’s. My listening to Steve Reich was first on albums, then on cassettes, next on CDs and now digitally. I am still listening to Reich with the same fervor and intensity as I did then. I listen to it often, discovering new things in the music each time, even after so many years. I like it so well that I can listen to it time and time again and never tire of it. Actually that is how I like to listen to most of my music, again and again, before I decide to change to something different.
Music for Large Ensemble is roughly a 15 minute piece, written for orchestra. It starts with a foundation of sounds that stay throughout the piece. Strings, percussion, brass and wind instruments, as well as piano, initially present simply and then as the piece progresses there is layering of sounds. It flows and unfolds. There is a back and forth quality created by the string section that is present through the entire piece. Music for Large Ensemble pushes and pulls, driving forward with sounds that grow into and out of the notes, like a propelling body of water. Sections peel off or fall away, in the most natural of ways. Everything makes sense. Horns start quietly on a note and then seconds later develop into a satisfying crescendo, on that same note. It is a big wide open sound. It resonates through out my body, filling every crevice. There is an overall sweetness and tenderness to Music for Large Ensemble, despite the driving nature of the composition. To me it is exciting, exhilarating, inspirational, forthcoming, purposeful, complex and fulfilling. It will always give me joy when I hear it.
New York Public Library has a good selection of his music, as well as information about Steve Reich and his music. Performances of Reich compositions can also be viewed at the Performing Arts Library.
Below are a collections of websites related to Steve Reich:
(note the selection of excerpted video performance on this site.)