Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Signal plays Reich at the Center: A Culmination of Partnerships


The Center for 21st Century Music is delighted to welcome Ensemble Signal on September 19 for a performance of Steve Reich’s concert-length Music for 18 Musicians. Please note that the concert begins at the later-than-usual time of 9pm; it will be preceded by a talk by Signal’s co-artistic directors Brad Lubman and Lauren Radnofsky at 8:15pm. Coming on the heels of the release of Signal’s acclaimed recording of the piece, the performance marks the culmination of partnerships between Signal and Reich and between the Center and Reich, detailed below. This blog will publish another post in the coming days introducing the piece itself.

Released in 2015, Signal’s studio recording of Music for 18 Musicians has been praised widely and effusively. Awarded the prestigious Diapason d’Or Award (given by reviewers of the French Diapason magazine), the recording received high praise from the composer himself, who wrote that “Signal has made an extraordinary recording of Music for 18 Musicians. Fast moving, spot on and emotionally charged.” Critics have given the album similarly glowing praise, with David Weininger of the Boston Globe writing that “two excellent recordings of Steve Reich’s epoch-making “Music for 18 Musicians” exist already…[including] one by Steve Reich and Musicians…But this new version, by the New York-based Ensemble Signal, bests them both.” The album is available to stream on Spotify; a clip of a live performance of the piece by Signal is available here

Signal’s commitment to Reich’s music goes far beyond this piece. In 2016, the ensemble was involved in 80th birthday concerts of the composer's music at the Miller Theatre, Guggenheim Museum, Carnegie Hall, and Cal Performances, playing Reich’s early works, recent works, and everything in between. This season, Signal has premiered a new Reich work entitled Runner, with upcoming repeat performances at Carnegie Hall and Washington Performing Arts.


Signal’s music director Brad Lubman brings an even more extensive engagement with Reich’s work. Among the many world premieres Lubman has conducted, four are Reich works: Three Tales, Daniel Variations, Radio Rewrite, and Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings. Lubman went on to record Radio Rewrite--inspired by songs of the rock band Radiohead--with Signal. The conductor has written and spoken extensively about Reich’s music: in an article on the composer’s website, in an interview with the Rochester City Newspaper, and in an extended audio conversation with Reich himself moderated by WXXI’s Brenda Tremblay (see below).


The UB Music Department’s relationship with Reich goes back even further, to the 1970s, when Reich was on the cusp of his present-day fame. The Creative Associates—an ensemble consisting of fellows at the department’s Center of the Creative and Performing Arts—took Reich’s early work Clapping Music on its 1975 European tour, which included engagements at the BBC, West German Radio, and Warsaw Autumn Festival. The next year, at the second-ever June in Buffalo Festival, then-director Morton Feldman featured the younger composer’s music, which may have had a subtle influence on Feldman’s later explorations of repeated and nearly-repeated patterns. (This period of vibrant activity in the department has since been documented in detail in the book This Life of Sounds: Evenings for New Music in Buffalo, written by former managing director of the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts, Renée Levine Packer.)

Reich has since been invited to June in Buffalo as composition faculty—in 1987, 2000, 2003, and in 2010, when he received an honorary doctorate from the university. A range of his works have been performed at June in Buffalo: everything from large-scale works like City Life and Three Tales (the latter piece for film and ensemble was part of the 2003 festival’s “Music and Image” focus), chamber works like the Pulitzer-prize winner Double Sextet, and rarely performed works like Six Pianos.



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