Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Steve Reich in Vilnius!

I couldn't believe it when I found out on Sunday that Steve Reich and friends were giving a concert in Vilnius! This is the beauty of Vilnius - every now and again you get real legends in the concert halls. Steve Reich is seen as one of the main minimalist composers. Minimalist music essentially involves repeating the same pattern over and over again, with subtle movements as it goes along. As someone once said 'it's like driving round and round the block, but honking your horn at a different place each time'. It is extremely hard on the musicians who keep repeating the same movements for a long time - there have been stories of repetitive strain injuries due to this music. One of the other exponents is Philipp Glass who has written a very nice violin concerto.

The concert hall was as packed as I had never seen it before, mostly with young people (Reich recently celebrated his 70th birthday). I just managed to get a seat despite having only a standing room ticket (must try that more often!). The evening started with a piece for 4 people playing 4 bongo drums and taking turns in playing (those players, bar one, were much the same age as Reich, and had to sit down in between). At some stage the piece sounded like a room full of looms - and I did notice one player at least wearing ear protection. This was followed by a piece for multiple marimbas, vibraphone, piano, and some singers. Finally there was a piece for 18 musicians, including also a violin, cello, clarinet and bass clarinet. I am sorry to say that the music went on, and on, and on, and on. The violinist and cellist were the only ones who had a bit of life in them, and gave it laldy where they could (as the Scottish media once said about Princess Anne, when before the start of a rugby match she lustily sang 'Flower of Scotland' - the Scottish 'national anthem' - not quite the thing to do for a child of the reigning UK monarch). There were parts which seemed to consist of playing the same notes for the whole about 45 minutes that the last piece lasted. Otherwise it seemed to be a very presbyterian approach to music - 'for God's sake, let's not show any emotion'. The music was simply not going anywhere. If I had not agreed to meet a friend afterwards, I would have walked out during the last piece - one or two other people did. I also began to wonder how the people playing the music felt about it, considering that they had gone through years of education...to play the same notes non-stop? I hoped they had other jobs.

Philipp Glass's violin concerto is much more fun, and our own Mindaugas Urbaitis also writes minimalist music, but with a strong, driving pulse, as for example in his ballet 'Acid City'. That music brings something - Reich's music, based on yesterday's performance, is just there. What's the point? That music does not need to have a point? I think it does (need to have a point).