Work: New York Counterpoint
About This Work
New York Counterpoint (1985) marks the second installment of Reich's counterpoint series, which began in 1982 with Vermont Counterpoint for the multiple flutes of Ransom Wilson, and ended in 1987 with Electric Counterpoint for electric
guitarist Pat Metheny. Each of the three works is scored for one live performer who plays along with up to a dozen pre-recorded layers of him/herself, intricately woven into dense contrapuntal textures. The work was commissioned by clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and premiered on January 20, 1986, at Avery Fisher Hall in New York. It features nine B flat clarinets and three bass clarinet parts. As the title suggests, it is the most spirited and rhythmically daring of the series. Reich has noted that while writing the piece, he was drawn to the sound of Benny Goodman and early jazz, which is reflected in the tricky syncopations throughout. The work also displays the broad coloristic range of the clarinet family, from the biting upper register of the B flat clarinet to the depths of the bass clarinet.
Most of the first movement of New York Counterpoint is devoted to elaborate, interlocking canons which, once assembled, form a complex contrapuntal labyrinth. Opening and closing the movement is a cycle of pulsing harmonies; each chord lasts the duration of one breath, rising and falling in volume. The second movement is more lyrical and seemingly slower, but is in fact, underscored by a faster pulse that fades in and out. The final movement features a return to the canonic process. Eventually the live performer breaks away from the canon with a melody that is seemingly independent of it, but is actually motivically related to the counterpoint that envelopes it. With the ensuing entrance of the bass clarinet probing the texture's lowest register, Reich displaces the meter by alternating between duple and triple groupings of the pulse. The effect is akin to crossing a funky electric bass and a percussive Indian tabla. This continues for a few cycles until the texture thins out and the canon rises to the upper register in a ethereal close.
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