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Colin Currie Group review – happy celebration of Steve Reich | Classical music


Eearlier this month, Steve Reich celebrated his 85th birthday. The Colin Currie Group and Synergy Vocals mark this turning point in the life of one of the greatest living composers with a European tour, which includes the first performances of his latest work, composed for them and jointly commissioned by a consortium of concert halls including the center of the south shore.

The traveller’s prayer was composed last year, started before and completed during the pandemic. This is not a setting to music of the Hebrew Traveler’s Prayer itself, but of three short passages from the Old Testament which are often added to it, and Reich puts them for four voices in long, winding vocal lines, often doubled and colored by the instrumental ensemble, and making extensive use of intertwined canons and their inversions and retrogrades. Reich said the music is “closer to Josquin des Prez than to Stravinsky”, although the opening section for two tenors (which takes up half of the 16-minute work) seems to be reminiscent of late Stravinsky, especially Threni. It’s a muted, rather contained piece, low in rhythmic energy, rooted in the same key throughout, and very different from anything Reich has composed before.

At Festival Hall, the contrast between this almost static new work and much of Reich’s other music was emphasized by the pieces Currie and his group framed it with, two of them with strong London connections; there was the dense, dark harmonies and shifting tone of Quartet, for two vibraphones and two pianos, which is dedicated to Currie, and the hyperactive sparkle of the dance score Runner, co-commissioned by the Royal Opera House. And finally, there was one of the Reich classics of the 1980s, Tehillim, the first work in which he explored his Jewish heritage, his psalms sounding rougher, less exquisite in Currie’s performance than when they did. ‘were when they were performed by the composer’s own group. , but still so joyful and exhilarating.

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