Friday, February 5, 2016

Percussive Reich-analia performance takes pummeling to the next level

Drumming - Photo by Jacob Wade
The buzz in the air at Montgomery Park on Saturday evening (January 30) reflected the high level of anticipation from an overflow crowd, some of whom were patiently waiting to buy an unclaimed ticket from will call. They were looking forward a Third Angle New Music Ensemble concert devoted to the music of Steve Reich. The program, “aptly entitled Reich-analia,” featured two classic Reich pieces: “Sextet” and “Drumming” both of which explore intoxicating sonic possibilities from percussive instruments. The featured virtuosos of the performance were Sō Percussion, a New York City based percussion ensemble that consists of Eric Cha-Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Siliwinski, and Jason Treuting. They partnered brilliantly with several other superb musicians to elevate the propulsive, minimalist music of Reich. 

Sextet - photo by Jacob Wade
Because he uses repetitive rhythmic patterns so ingeniously, Reich’s music has a hypnotic quality, and that was evident right away with “Sextet” (1985), which featured Sō Percussion plus Oregon Symphony percussionists Sergio Carreno and Jonathan Greeney. Seemingly simple patterns evolved and devolved from an array of instruments that included keyboards, marimbas, vibraphones, bass drums, crotales, and tam-tams. Bows used on vibraphones created longer, more sustained tones that reminded me of a gentle fog horn. The overall tonal shape of the piece seemed to dip slightly and then rise on an upswing. Rhythmic patterns had a uniform quality that dissolved into a random-like style before syncing up again. The only glitch in the performance was a speaker that was turned on a few minutes after things got started. The sudden increase in sound briefly jarred people’s ears, but the artistry of the performers easily eclipsed that snafu, and they received an overwhelmingly enthusiastic applause from the audience at the end of the piece.
Drumming - Photo by Karney Hatch
In the second half of the program, sticks and mallets teamed up with voices and piccolo to give a trance-inducing performance of “Drumming” (1971). Members of Sō Percussion created a virtual thicket of rhythmic patterns that ricocheted off the walls. Sometimes one drummer would take over for another to give him a much needed break. Players would turn the end of their sticks around to use either the wooden end for a slightly sharper sound or the mallet end for a slightly softer sound. Somewhere along the way Carreno and Greeney got into the action on the marimbas, and later moved over to the glockenspiels. In the midst of all this, they were joined by Christ Whyte and Oregon Symphony colleagues Niel DePonte and Michael Roberts. Percussive vocals from Katherine FitzGibbon and Beth Meyers phased in and out of the soundscape but they were difficult to hear over the continuous pummeling. The same problem occurred when Sarah Tiedemann played her piccolo. Still, the musicians created an array of overtones that sounded otherworldly. Intriguing pattern-changes and incredibly speedy stickwork were also part of the hour-long sonic mixture, and the virtuosic effort of the ensemble was rewarded with a standing ovation.

I have to admit that I felt a brief wooziness when I stood up. Perhaps that was due to the vibratory level of the performance. But as I left the performance area, I noticed that one of the audience members had fallen and that EMTs were already in the building with a stretcher. It probably had nothing to do with the concert, but I could understand if that person stood up a little too quickly, he/she might have simply passed out. Weird things can happen at concerts. I've experienced an audience member throwing up on me during a concert. Such is the power of music - or the true feelings toward music critics!
Photo by Jacob Wade

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