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Reich: Music For 18 Musicians

Release Date: 10/16/2007 
Label:  Innova   Catalog #: 678   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Steve Reich
Conductor:  Bill Ryan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.


REICH Music for Eighteen Musicians Bill Ryan, dir; Grand Valley State U New Music Ens INNOVA 678 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 61:20)

Perhaps you even know the back-story by now. Someone visionary at a small Michigan state college hires a New York musician to build a new music Read more ensemble as a flagship group for the institution. Said director decides to program one of the great founding masterpieces of the American minimalist tradition. Students, faculty, even community members are recruited for the undertaking, and they rehearse most of a year. They take a field trip to New York to participate in a Carnegie Hall workshop on the composer’s music, they meet the master, and he gives his blessing. At the same time, one of the composer-directors of New York’s Bang on a Can hears their performance and immediately invites the group to perform at his festival. They do so, on the 24-hour marathon concert, bringing down the house at 5:00 a.m. Then a record company comes knocking, they place a snappy video trailer on YouTube, and here we are.

The whole thing has a wonderfully Capraesque ring to it. And the result? I’m happy (and relieved) to say—excellent. I’ve listened with a head-to-head comparison with Reich’s own premiere recording (of many years back) on ECM, and the differences are really only matters of interpretation. The GVSUNME (they might need a better acronym) takes a little longer, and seems to allow more repetitions of modules than Reich, though that may well be because the original was an LP and had to fit within said time constraints. Interestingly though, the piece feels as though it’s going a little faster, even though close comparison shows the tempos to be about the same. The difference comes from the fact that the Michiganers seem to “swing” the music a bit more, and one feels the large-scale background progressions a little more strongly. This is a plus, though simultaneously the crisp precision of the original recording is striking in its own right.

The sound on Innova is more spacious, though again ECM’s transparence and clarity is a selling point from a different angle. The sonics here may also be a function of the SACD multichannel format. While I’ve listened on a good stereo system, I have not heard it in full surround mode, and I suspect some of the reverberance would be parsed out if played in an environment for which it’s ideally designed.

The new release does have one extra selling point, in that the subsections of the work are indexed here, unlike on the original. But really it’s apples and oranges between the two, and how nice that’s the case. Above all, I marvel that here we have young people taking on a work that caused excitement and consternation about 30 years ago. After almost exactly one generation it’s clear that this is a masterpiece that can stand different interpretations and gets easier to understand and perform with the passage of time. Kind of gives you hope. Bravo to all concerned.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich
Conductor:  Bill Ryan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1976; USA 
Length: 59 Minutes 21 Secs. 

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