Steve Reich: Reich/Richter Revue – intricate riffs on the rhythms of the painter’s abstract film | Classical music
Mattaching his music to visual images is not a new start for Steve Reich. His two video operas, The Cave and Three Tales, composed with his wife, the video artist Beryl Korot, are his most significant achievements of the 1990s. But for Reich/Richter, created in 2019 on the occasion of the opening of the center artist from Manhattan The Shed, Reich worked with an existing film, Moving Picture (946-3), which artist Gerhard Richter had made with director Corinna Belz.
To coordinate the changes in the visuals with his music, Reich worked with a time-coded copy of Richter’s abstract film. The images begin with simple stripes, which gradually split and become more and more complex, before reversing the process and returning to the stripes with which it began; the music follows this arch-like structure for 38 minutes. Some critics of early Reich/Richter interpretations found it difficult to simultaneously appreciate the score’s visual complexity and musical processes, but Reich always designed his score for 14 instruments (pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, vibraphones and pianos, with string quartet) to also have an independent life in the concert hall.
The cool and elegant performance by the Ensemble Intercontemporain, taken from a 2020 Paris concert, reveals Reich/Richter as one of Reich’s most impressive recent works. While the music begins to mirror the multiplication processes of Richter’s film, beginning with a two-note sixteenth note pattern, then moving to a four-note pattern and so on, it quickly abandons this system, introducing longer note values and allowing individual instrumental lines to “escape” pulsating textures. In the middle section, when the film is at its most complex, Reich’s music slows down in sustained chords, before picking up the pace and finally returning to the semiquavers of the opening. If the music never quite reaches the power and majesty of Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, it has something of the certainty and inevitability of that great work, which is more than enough.
The other choice of the week
Reich discusses Reich/Richter’s interpretation in Conversations, his recently released book of dialogues with other composers and collaborators compiled during the pandemic. The first and longest of these exchanges is with David Lang, one of the co-founders of new music platform Bang on a Can, and the latest disc of Lang’s own music was also released this week, on Pentatone. Assembled for 14 years, The writings is a collection of arrangements of Hebrew Bible texts that are particularly associated with the holidays; they are enchanting, unaccompanied choral pieces, like jewels in their crystalline beauty and performed with just the right amount of gentle detachment by Cappella Amsterdam under the direction of Daniel Reuss.