Ólafur Arnalds Meets Steve Reich

There’s something about Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds’ 2013 ambient track, No. Other, that reminds me of the music of Steve Reich- specifically, Reich’s 1979 Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards. It isn’t that the notes or rhythms are even remotely the same. It’s more about the general atmosphere which emerges from the two works. Both unfold with a gradual, hypnotic inevitability. In both, long, sustained, static tones in the middle register give us the sense of floating …

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Festina Lente: Three Pieces Which Alter Our Perception of Speed and Time

“Festina lente” is a classical adage which translates as, “Make haste slowly.” Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) chose this contradictory proverb as the title of a hauntingly mystical 1988 composition for strings and harp. Pärt’s Festina Lente has been described as a musical hologram in which the whole is contained in each part. The piece is made up of a single melodic line which is heard at varying rates of speed. Long, sustained tones in the basses …

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The 2017 Classical Grammys

Here is an overview of last weekend’s 2017 Grammy Awards in the classical categories. From opera to chamber music, the list features a heavy dose of American contemporary music: Best Orchestral Performance This is the second installment in a series of live-concert Shostakovich recordings by Music Director Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony on the Deutsche Grammophon label. The first recording of the five-part series was honored in the same category at …

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Can You Hear Coldplay in Steve Reich?

Recently, as I was listening to the thrilling final four minutes of Steve Reich’s Double Sextet, I began to hear subtle echoes of Viva la Vida by the British alternative rock band, Coldplay. Take a moment and compare the pulsating rhythm and harmonic progressions in both examples and see if you agree. Interestingly, both pieces appear to have been written around the same time. (Viva la Vida was released on June 13, 2008 while the Double Sextet, written in …

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Steve Reich at 80

Monday marked the 80th birthday of American composer Steve Reich, who remains one of contemporary music’s most influential and iconic voices. Along with Terry Riley and Philip Glass, Reich was at the forefront of Minimalism, a style of music which emerged in the 1960s and is based on a strong rhythmic pulse, repeating patterns, and gradual, process-oriented change. (For what it’s worth, “minimalist” was a label Reich and other composers resisted). It’s …

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Steve Reich’s Piano Phase: What Are You Afraid Of?

It’s not everyday that a harpsichord recital leads to a riot, but apparently that’s what happened this past Sunday in Cologne. Iranian-American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani attempted to perform a composer-sanctioned version of Steve Reich’s Piano Phase (1967) at the Cologne Philharmonie when members of the audience became disruptive. He was in the middle of a program of music taken from his recent recording, Time Present and Time Past, which sets the standard baroque harpsichord repertoire …

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David Bowie Meets Philip Glass

The groundbreaking work of David Bowie, who passed away earlier this week, left a profound mark on the world of rock music. But Bowie also influenced some of the twentieth century’s most important minimalist and experimental composers, and in some cases he was influenced by their work. In 1976, Bowie attended the European premiere of Steve Reich’s monumental Music for 18 Musicians. You can hear the circular, pulsating, mallet-driven patterns and rhythmic groove of Music …

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