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NMF thriller shows Reich's sterling genius

Great night with WSO players at their finest

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Legendary composer Steve Reich showed Winnipeggers Thursday night why he's regarded one of the greatest living musical artists on the planet today.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's 22nd annual New Music Festival is featuring the New York City- and Vermont-based composer as its distinguished guest composer. Reich, 76, is in town this week to hear seven of his iconic works performed during the nightly celebration of contemporary music. The NMF's all-Reich concert, aptly titled Steve Reich's Chamber Music, showcased four classics performed by members of the WSO as well as special guest artists.

Different Trains (1988) is an arresting work for string quartet with pre-recorded tape that chronicles Reich's own journey riding transcontinental trains after his parents separated. The Jewish composer came to realize he would have been riding very different trains in Europe during those same wartime years. The WSO's Clearwater Quartet (Gwen Hoebig, concertmaster; Karl Stobbe, violin; Daniel Scholz, viola; Yuri Hooker, cello) fearlessly performed its three movements -- with Reich riding levels in the sound booth with raw energy and fierce concentration. As their stringed instruments doubled the speech patterns of the pre-recorded tracks excerpted from Reich's governess, the Pullman porter and three Holocaust survivors, the Grammy-award-winning piece steadily grows in cumulative power, hurtling like its own runaway train punctuated by screaming train whistles. Bravo to these four players for an unforgettable performance.

The concert opened with Clapping Music (1972) performed by four members of the University of Manitoba Percussion Ensemble (director, Victoria Sparks). Intricate clapping patterns are woven like a tapestry as individual performers fall in and out of synchronization with each other.

Realizing these youthful musicians are roughly the same age as Reich when he first burst onto the New York avant-garde arts scene in the mid-1960s provided great poignancy, showing the continuity of generations.

Guest saxophonist Allen Harrington also delivered a riveting New York Counterpoint, with multiple pre-recorded tracks of his own horn. Performing live on soprano sax, Harrington blew for all he was worth, easily handling the jazzy riffs and licks as well as repetitive single-note motives interlaced throughout the rhythmically propulsive piece.

In Tandem -- retitled from Reich's 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning score Double Sextet, featured choreographer Peter Quanz's company Q Dance, comprised of an elite ensemble of Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancers. Premièred by New York City's Guggenheim Museum Works & Process series in 2009 with the composer in attendance, this performance, notably, marked the first time Quanz's signature work has been performed with live music.

A live sextet comprised of Hoebig, Hooker, Jan Kocman (flute), Micah Heilbrunn (clarinet), David Moroz (piano) and Ben Reimer (vibraphone) were led by Richard Lee against a pre-recorded track of a second ensemble. The multimedia collaboration is a stirring testament to the versatility of Reich's vision and tireless imagination.

As expected, the multi-generational crowd of 866 leapt to its feet, roaring its approval for the performance, as well as the night's rich bounty of Reich's music, as the composer took the stage for a well-deserved bow.

The NMF continues until Saturday at the Centennial Concert Hall.


Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

New Music Festival

Centennial Concert Hall

Thursday, January 31

Attendance: 866

(Five stars out of five)

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2013 A18

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