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Reich: Music For 18 Musicians / Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble

Reich / Grand Valley State New Music Ensemble
Release Date: 08/27/2013 
Label:  Innova   Catalog #: 865  
Composer:  Steve Reich
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

REICH Music for 18 Musicians Bill Ryan, cond; Grand Valley State U New Music Ens INNOVA 865 (61:20)

After this recording was released as an SACD in 2008, fellow Fanfare reviewer Robert Carl greeted it very favorably in issue 31:4, concluding with the following: “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 Read more gives you hope. Bravo to all concerned.” I echo that—bravo to all concerned. I’ve enjoyed this work for almost a generation myself, but I don’t think I’ve understood the intense love that many listeners feel for it until now. Maybe it’s simply that I needed to take a few years away from Music for 18 Musicians in order to “get” it, but it also might be that it took this particular recording of the music to push me over the edge.

It’s funny that this is the second time in the same issue that I’ve reviewed a recording performed by musicians from Grand Valley State University. The story, in a nutshell, is that the then recently-formed GVSU New Music Ensemble, joined by faculty members and amateur musicians from the surrounding community, spent the better part of a year rehearsing this music before they took it from their home in Allendale, Michigan to Carnegie Hall, where Reich himself heard them. This led to a memorable performance as part of a 24-hour Bang on a Can Festival, and then a recording, back in Michigan, by Innova. Currently, there are two YouTube videos related to this recording—one that serves as a sort of trailer to it, and one, less professionally produced, that shows the GVSUNME in rehearsal. Both are worth watching.

I’ve often felt that passionate amateur musicians can out-perform professionals. The first recording of Music for 18 Musicians was made by Reich himself, with his eponymous ensemble. It remains available on the ECM New Series label. Reich recorded it again for Nonesuch, and there is also a version by Ensemble Modern, and one from Hungary’s Amadinda ensemble, which I have not heard. The recordings I have heard all are satisfying. Reich’s first recording and the Ensemble Modern version last a little under an hour. Reich’s remake and the present recording last longer than an hour, not because they are notably slower, but because more repeats are taken within some of the work’s sections. That’s all for the best.

The other salient difference concerns how the 18 musicians blend together. The work’s earlier recordings tend to make the voices stand out. Here, the four singers (one doubles on marimba) are much more within the instrumental texture, and I like that better; after all, Reich treats the voices instrumentally in this work. They are not soloists per se.

I confess that at one point I found myself dancing in the kitchen, as this recording played in the other room. I’m not much of a dancer, but I was moved by the joyous spirit conveyed by these performers, and with the beehive-like activity of Reich’s music. As in the multiple piano works by Simeon ten Holt, this is a community piece, and GVSU NME’s recording feels more communal than any of its predecessors. I’m not saying that professional musicians tend to be jaded, but they long ago discovered what it means to play in an ensemble and to master a difficult work. These young musicians have mastered it too, but one can sense that this was a voyage of discovery for them—the discovery of self, the discovery of each other, and the discovery of what it means to belong to a community working toward a common and fulfilling goal. That’s a beautiful quality, when one hears it in a performance; one hears it all too rarely on recordings and even in concerts. If you have one of the earlier recordings of Music for 18 Musicians , I strongly recommend adding this one anyway. If you’re like me, it will give you a new appreciation for this work, and hope for the future, knowing that young people are capable of whatever they set their collective minds to.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1976; USA 

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