Reich rezones the orchestra, the most notable change being the mallets (marimbas, xylophones and vibraphones) placed in front of the conductor to temper any acoustic or visual delay.
He has often changed instrument and player placement to suit the work at hand. For his 1983 work The Desert Music for orchestra and voice (performed by the Sydney Symphony with David Robertson in 2016 alongside Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring), he chose to reseat the strings in smaller groups and different rhythmic positions to allow them to follow their section leaders differently. This elasticity is key for the composer, though Reich notes it may not always be accepted by the musicians:
“I would encourage all composers to rethink the orchestra in terms of forces and placement in order to best realize their musical ideas. Whether such rethinking along with the added need for considerably greater rehearsal time and electronics, will be welcomed by orchestras is clearly another thornier issue.” (from On the Size and Seating of an Orchestra, 1990)
This is not the first Australian premiere of Reich’s work to fill our Concert Hall. In April 2012, Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings was performed as part of a program spanning more than four hours under the baton of conductor Roland Peelman, now Artistic Director of the Canberra International Music Festival. Next for Reich is an immersive performance in collaboration with the painter Gerhard Richter in New York City highlighting the composer’s take on musical architecture—repetition, minimalism, patterns.
It’s clear that Reich’s career and back catalogue are unparalleled. Many interpretations and applications of his work (some in unexpected places) have allowed his music to amorphously grow into its own, prompting questions about the line between classical and contemporary music, art feeding other art, the power of music, and more. Here are just three that help to answer these in the blurriest of ways.