Synergy represented by

L-R: Amy Haworth, Heather Cairncross, (Steve Reich), Micaela Haslam, Amanda Morrison

 

“It was a few months ago now, but I feel as though this project is one that should be noted in our diary because it was part of such an extraordinary event. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the record label Nonesuch, the Brooklyn Academy of Music put on a series of concerts featuring their top artists. Three of the opening concerts were to feature both Steve Reich and Philip Glass, sharing a stage together for the first time in around 40 years. In their New York student days, Steve and Phil were close friends. They both drove taxis to make ends meet, and even (briefly) set up a removal business together. Then they famously fell out (though neither would discuss the specifics) and now, in their 70s, they were to be reunited. Not only that, but Steve and Phil were to perform as members of each other’s ensembles – so Steve was to play Music in Similar Motion with the Philip Glass Ensemble, and Phil was to play Four Organs with Steve, Nico Muhly and Timo Andres (with David Cossin on maracas).

 

The High Line

Original tracks on the High Line

 

 

 

 

 

It is a very rare occasion these days that Steve Reich & Musicians gets together, so imagine what a thrill it was for us to be copied in to Steve’s invitation to his ensemble. Synergy Vocals and Steve Reich have collaborated regularly for almost 20 years now, but that is nothing compared to how long these guys have all worked together, so this invitation felt like a real badge of honour. The last time we all got together was for a European tour in 2006, celebrating Steve’s 70th birthday. Who could forget the infamous tour bus with its leather seats and a sort of cocktail lounge at the back? Sadly, the said lounge soon turned into a sick-bay, as more and more members of the ensemble took ill with a sickness bug. Poor old Jim Preiss was the first to succumb to the illness in Paris, then it seemed to spread like wildfire. Some members of the ensemble even went so far as to book their own train tickets from city to city, to avoid the sick bus! Most stuck it out, however and thankfully a few of us (including Steve) were spared, and we did manage to complete the tour.

Very sadly, early in 2014, we lost the inimitable Jim Preiss, and it was strange to perform Music for 18 Musicians without him playing vibes and generally keeping everyone in order. For this performance in BAM, the brilliant David Cossin (a former pupil of Jim’s) was taking his place.

 

Music for 18 dress rehearsal with David Cossin on vibraphone

 

So there we were in New York, and our old stomping ground – the wonderful Brooklyn Marriott. It’s a myth that you need to stay in the centre of Manhattan in order to get the best out of New York. Brooklyn is the key. It’s so easy (and quick) to get to just about anywhere on Manhattan; Brooklyn itself is really vibrant; Brooklyn Heights is gorgeous, and teeming with eateries; the view across to Manhattan is stunning, and the walk across Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan is simply one of the best things to do in the city. We also re-discovered the High Line, the amazing urban park on an elevated walkway, previously a disused spur of New York Railroad’s West Side Line.

Another thing we love about the Marriott is that it has a fabulous pool and gym. Very annoyingly for me, I’d done my back in the previous week and even swimming was painful. I did try. The completely deserted full-length lanes of clear blue water looked so enticing, but after half a length I had to surrender to the pain – gutted! Never mind, Macy’s was still round the corner! There’s another tip for you. Don’t bother with the mid-town enormous Macy’s – too big! Head to Brooklyn and enjoy a nice leisurely peruse round the store.

Post-concert speeches

Steve and Phil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was so good to see the gang again – Bob Becker, Russ Hartenberger, Garry Schall, Garry Kvistad, Thad Wheeler, Ed Niemann, Lisa Moore, Phillip Bush, Jeanne LeBlanc, Liz Lim and Todd Reynolds – not to mention the super-efficient Steve Ehrenberg, making sure everything was set up as is should be. It seemed like only yesterday.

Our first rehearsal in BAM was for Drumming, so Heather and I toddled along with our activity packs, expecting to be twiddling our thumbs for the first 20 minutes of Section 1. Almost as soon as they started, however, it dawned on me that this really was an historic event. Here were Russ and Bob – the masters of Drumming, without whom the piece would never have materialised – playing Section 1 with the wonderful Garry Kvistad and Steve Reich himself. This is no longer a common occurrence – these musicians are now in their 70s, living very separate lives –  and who’s to say when, or indeed if, this might happen again. It is wonderful that there are so many fabulous groups around the world playing Steve’s music nowadays, but still Russ and Bob play Drumming unlike anyone else.

 

The masters at work, L-R: Russ, Garry, Steve, Bob

 

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I sincerely believe that all would-be Drummers should witness Russ and Bob playing the first phase – at close range. They take SO long over it (Steve would probably say too long!), but watching the process is a lesson in itself. They play with such stillness and poise, combined with extraordinary power and energy.  I suggested that they should make an archive (educational) video of Drumming Part 1, shot from several angles. Don’t get me wrong, I love the young flashy players too, but there is something SO cool about these two – something which I think should somehow be preserved.

 

Russ Hartenberger and Garry Kvistad

 

The build-up to the event was enormous, as you might imagine. The press had a field day discussing “long-feuding composers” and “minimal awkwardness” etc. There was quite an atmosphere backstage too, with both ensembles milling around the green room, waiting to witness the non-public reunion. I have to say that Steve and Phil were incredibly dignified about the whole thing. Beryl Korot (Steve’s wife) described their response as “graceful”, and I knew exactly what she meant. They were polite, quietly friendly, and very respectful towards each other – and they’d done their homework. I knew that Steve had been struggling with a bad wrist, but it clearly hadn’t stopped him practising the piano. I thought Steve was particularly gracious in his donning of a dark jacket to play with Phil’s ensemble, conforming to their “uniform” (Steve Reich & Musicians always wear white shirts and black trousers, which looks good – and it’s about the only time you’ll ever see Steve in a white shirt!).

 

Four Organs in concert from stage right

 

I sat in the wings to watch Four Organs, as I wanted to be as close as possible to this historic event. It’s always entertaining to hear Michael Tilson Thomas describing the Carnegie Hall performance of the piece back in 1973 (for which MTT was responsible) when there was a Rite of Spring-esque riot with audience members booing and shouting at the players to stop, whilst other punters shouted back at them to shut up because they couldn’t hear the music. And here we were in Brooklyn with a well-behaved attentive audience, enjoying the piece as though it were a Beethoven string quartet.

 

Brooklyn Academy of Music

 

Our contributions to the three-evening event were Music for 18 Musicians in the first concert, then Drumming in the second.  We weren’t involved in the third concert (we nearly got to sing Proverb but then the programme was changed – sorry tenors!), but I stayed on to hear it. This one featured the quartet from Steve’s ensemble playing his WTC 911.  I confess I didn’t know the piece at all, but I couldn’t have chosen a more fitting time or place to hear it for the first time. In the sky over lower Manhattan, there were lasers showing where the twin towers had stood, as this was the anniversary of 911, and sitting in the audience with me was Francesca Vanasco (married to Thad Wheeler – a long-time member of Steve Reich & Musicians), who lost nearly all her colleagues in one of the towers (Fran had stayed at home to work that morning).  Fran’s voice is one of those featured in the WTC 911 backing track – “I knew it wasn’t an accident”. This was an incredibly passionate and moving rendition of a superb piece of music. Steve had initially said “how do you write a piece about 911?”. “Just like that”, I would answer. I haven’t witnessed such a long respectful silence at the end of a performance in a very long time. If the stage manager hadn’t started clapping, I think we would all have got up and left in silence. I was almost disappointed that that hadn’t been allowed to happen, but the players did deserve the hearty applause they finally got.

 

To complete the Nonesuch-Reich-Glass-New York experience, I stayed for the second half of the concert, which featured (quite a lot of) Phil Glass’s music. Whilst I appreciated the technical prowess and sheer stamina of the players and singer, I confess I didn’t love it. It’s just incessant for the wind players and singer, with absolutely nowhere to breathe. They did brilliantly, but I found it really stressful and I couldn’t help feeling annoyed with the composer for putting them through it! I know Steve’s music is repetitive too, but to my mind it’s much more human and linear – and uplifting. With some exceptions, Glass’s music makes me feel as though I’m being bashed around the head, on beats 1 and 3. Steve’s music is definitely on the proverbial 2 and 4, and feels more like surfing. Now there’s a discussion for an A level music essay if ever there was one!

 

taking a bow

 

Suffice to say, we all felt really privileged and proud to be part of this amazing event. It’s one I’m sure we won’t forget.”

 

Micaela