Steve Reich’s Quartet: Music for Two Vibraphones and Two Pianos

In his 1968 essay, Music as a Gradual Process, Steve Reich (b. 1936) wrote, “I am interested in perceptible processes. I want to be able to hear the process happening throughout the sounding music.” An American composer at the forefront of minimalism, Reich’s early process music involved repeated fragments of recorded conversation played on tape loops, one of which gradually moved out of sync in a phasing technique. Later came instrumental phase …

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Jennifer Higdon’s Oboe Concerto: Majesty, Beauty, and Grace

Regarding her Oboe Concerto, composed in 2005, American composer Jennifer Higdon writes, “I have always thought of the oboe as being a most majestic instrument, and it was a pleasure to be able to create a work that would highlight its beauty and grace.” Unfolding in a single movement, the Concerto begins with the nostalgic, pastoral voice of the solo oboe, emerging on an extended B-flat over a serene, searching chorale in …

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Michael Torke’s “Unseen” (No. 5): A Shifting Kaleidoscope

Last month, we listened to the first single from Unseen, the newest work of American composer Michael Torke. The piece, scored for orchestra, unfolds in nine brief movements, and continues in the direction of Torke’s recent groove-based chamber works, Being (2020), Psalms and Canticles (2021), and Time (2022). The complete album for Unseen will be released on May 10. Unseen, No. 5, which came out yesterday, emerges from a single pulsating rhythmic pattern in the strings. The piece develops …

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Gabriella Smith’s “Carrot Revolution”: Looking at the World Anew

Carrot Revolution, an ecstatic work for string quartet by American composer Gabriella Smith (b. 1991), grooves and pulsates with the sounds of the 21st century. It’s an exuberant melting pot which includes music of the past, now available at our fingertips as a result of recordings. Early music strains meet bluegrass, jazz, rock, raspy electric guitar riffs, and the post-minimalist thrill ride of John Adams’ Shaker Loops. The voices of the string …

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Michael Torke’s “Unseen” (No. 7): Embracing an Ecstatic Groove

The first single from Unseen, the newest work by American composer, Michael Torke, was released last week. (The full album will be available on May 10). The excerpt, No. 7 from a piece which unfolds in nine brief movements, delivers a visceral and ecstatic sense of groove. Scored for a larger ensemble, Unseen continues in the direction of Torke’s recent chamber albums, Being (2020), Psalms and Canticles (2021), and Time (2022). The composer writes, Unifying these four projects is the …

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John Adams’ “I Still Play”: Jeremy Denk

Pianist Jeremy Denk describes John Adams’ I Still Play as “a piece about a long friendship, and about connection and farewell.” Adams composed the fleeting set of variations for solo piano in 2017 to commemorate the retirement of Robert Hurwitz, the longtime president of Nonesuch Records. The piece, which the composer has characterized as “Satie meets Bill Evans,” unfolds over a restless chromatic bass line as a dreamy, haunting waltz. Fragments from Bach’s …

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Pavel Karmanov’s “Different…Rains”: Music for Flute, Piano, and Tape

Steve Reich’s Different Trains for string quartet and tape, composed in 1988, is a seminal work of American minimalism. It is music which is simultaneously in motion and at stasis. On one level, we sense the forward rush of passenger trains connecting New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles during the 1930s. On another level, we can imagine the time-altering hypnotic blur of the incessantly passing countryside from the window. The Russian composer and …

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