A Reich retrospective, und eine Reise

Alas: Low-quality photos of a high-quality event.

Before I left the house for the San Francisco Symphony’s Steve Reich tribute concert, I briefly mulled over what to wear. Would a black cap (in my case, a White Sox cap) be too kitschy? I demurred, but eventually decided against it. 

When I got there, I was none too surprised to find that plenty of people at Davies Symphony Hall that evening had taken up the mantle for me. And when music director Michael Tilson Thomas gestured to the black cap which begot them all, nestled somewhere in a box seat stage right, the enthusiastic concertgoers in front of me picked up their phones to snap photos in his general direction.

Naturally, the attendance of the man itself was enough to make the evening special, made more potent by Reich’s Bay Area connection—via Mills College’s formidable graduate music program—and longtime professional relationship with MTT. (At one point, the two men sat thigh-to-thigh on a piano bench to perform Reich’s Clapping Music—which, as you’d expect, brought down the house.)

But the finessed and insightful musicianship was ultimately what stole the show. Musicians from the San Francisco Symphony and Conservatory united for a performance of Six Marimbas that was ethereality incarnate; it was great to see Jack Van Geem leading the ensemble onstage, too, whom I haven’t seen live since his retirement in 2012 or earlier. (That being said, the percussion section is in good hands with the radiant Jacob Nissly, who performed superbly on both Six Marimbas and Double Sextet.

To say the neighborhood talent was well-supplemented would be an understatement: Reich devotees Kronos Quartet performed Different Trains, the now-classic that was written for them in 1988; guitarist Derek Johnson brought a clean, cool rendition of Electric Counterpoint; and Chicago’s own eighth blackbird melded seamlessly with SFS musicians for an unforgettable Double Sextet finale. 

Throughout, it was brilliantly apparent why Reich’s music is so satisfying to play. It is utterly self-evident music; it energizes in response to being energized. Yet, there is power in its restraint, as though an untapped reservoir of fervid intensity lies just beneath the surface.

I considered writing a full review of this concert, but the fact that I didn’t attend on a press ticket gives me a somewhat convenient pass—I fear that my review would have been stuffed with superlatives, anyway. Instead, read Joshua Kosman’s glowing (but professional) review here.

As mentioned earlier on this blog, I’ll be studying abroad in Vienna this autumn. Hopefully a change of scenery will be just what Dia[loges] needs to jumpstart itself. I leave next week—recommendations always welcome!

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