Thursday, June 15, 2006
YOU ARE (VARIATIONS)(2oo4)
LOS ANGELES MASTER CHORALE
GRANT GERSHON, CONDUCTOR
1. YOU ARE WHEREVER YOUR THOUGHTS ARE 13 : 14
2. SHIVITI HASHEM L'NEGDI (I PLACE THE ETERNAL BEFORE ME) 4:15
3. EXPLANATIONS COME TO AN END SOMEWHERE 5:24
4. EHMOR M'AHT, V'AHSAY HARBAY (SAY LITTLE AND DO MUCH) 4:04
5. CELLO COUNTERPOINT (2oo3)
MAYA BEISER, CELLO
All compositions by Steve Reich
NOTES BY STEVE REICH
You Are (Variations) (2004) is in four movements with each movement a setting of a short text. The movements/texts are:
You are wherever your thoughts are
Shiviti Hashem l'negdi (I place the Eternal before me)
Explanations come to an end somewhere
Ehmor m'aht, v'ahsay harbay (Say little and do much)
The first text is an English translation from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, one of the most magnetic and profound of the late 18th-century Hasidic mystics. The quote is from his "Likutey Moharan" I:21. The second text is from Psalm 16 in the original Hebrew and translates as "I place the Eternal before me." The third is an English translation from the German of Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. The fourth quote is from Pirke Avot, one of the earliest parts of the Talmud and by far its most popular tractate. The Hebrew, from Rabbi Shammai, translates as "Say little and do much."
Since these texts are all quite brief, it is natural to repeat them with a somewhat different musical setting in each repeat. Hence, variations were basically forced on me as a form by my choice of texts. The actual means of variation varies considerably.
Starting out, I made an harmonic ground plan with a short cycle of chords that would serve as the underpinning for all the variations, as has been done historically numerous times before. However, I found that upon completing the first setting of "You are wherever your thoughts are," I started to vary the harmonies. As I went on, they departed further from the original ground plan. I frankly enjoyed this immensely since I was following spontaneous musical intuition. In the third variation there are quotes from "L'hommeArmee," the popular song from the 14th century. Starting with the fifth variation I began piling all four pianos on top of each other with conflicting harmonies, which produces something new and extremely energetic. In the eighth variation one may hear echoes of James Brown. The second text, in Hebrew, is sung and then immediately sung in canon, which is then repeated and augmented, creating a kind of slow-motion canon with marimbas, vibes, and pianos driving it on in constantly changing meters. After a short pause, the slow third movement begins, varying the repetitions of its text in changing, often minor harmonies. The last movement, again in Hebrew, returns to the original tempo and is composed of augmenting canons similar to the second movement. What unites the piece harmonically is a constantly recurring D-major dominant chord—usually with G, rather than A, in the bass. This bright ray of D-raajor light illuminates most of the piece, most intensely in the final movement.
You Are (Variations) is scored for 3 sopranos, alto, and 2 tenors, with 2 flutes, oboe, english horn, 3 Bb clarinets. 4 pianos, 2 marimbas. 2 vibraphones, and strings. The overall duration is a little more than 26 minutes. The piece was co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Lincoln Center, and the Friends of the Ensemble Modern.
Cello Counterpoint (2oo3) is scored for eight cellos and can be played by a soloist with the other parts prerecorded, as it is on this CD by Maya Beiser, or by a cello octet. It is in three movements: fast, slow, fast.
The first and last movements are both based on a similar four-chord cycle that moves ambiguously back and forth between c minor and Eb major. This harmonic cycle is treated extremely freely, however, particularly in the third movement. As a matter of fact, what strikes me most about these movements is that they are generally the freest in structure of any I have ever written. The second, slow movement is a canon in Eb minor involving, near the end of the movement, seven separate voices. Cello Counterpoint is one of the most difficult pieces I have ever written, calling for extremely tight, fast-moving rhythmic relationships not commonly found in the cello literature. The piece was co-commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation in the Library of Congress, the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, and Leiden University, for cellist Maya Beiser.
Her (Maya Beiser) performance of Steve Reich's "Cello Counterpoint" has been released last fall on a CD chosen by the NY Times as of the top albums of 2005.