Steve Reich’s “Eight Lines” (Octet): Cantillation Meets Pulse

Steve Reich’s Eight Lines is the exuberant, optimistic music of late twentieth century capitalist America. Composed in 1979 and originally titled Octet, it emerged from a world inundated with repetitive mass advertising and equally repetitive, slickly produced popular music. Built on minimalism’s satisfying, unrelenting pulse and sunny, jazz-infused repeating riffs, Eight Lines is a hypnotic musical joy ride which can alter our perception of time. We experience this music on a visceral level. Its rhythmic groove and swing …

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All Aboard! Five Pieces Inspired by Trains

Music reflects the sounds of the time. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, music was centered around the human voice and the motion of the body through dance. Music of the eighteenth century emerged from the pastoral sounds of nature, hunting horns, and the bugle calls of the battlefield. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, music got louder and more discordant amid the mechanized roar of the Industrial Revolution. Perhaps electricity and computers inform …

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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 Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow – Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 & 9 Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra) This is the second installment in a series of live-concert Shostakovich recordings by Music Director Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony on the …

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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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