Most mesmerizing music

So_percussion I was fortunate enough to attend a most riveting, thrilling, gorgeous (even visually) musical performance last evening in Boston by the young and superbly talented group So Percussion, at the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum and are performing there again this afternoon. Here’s a bit more about them:

DAVID WEININGER in the Boston Phoenix:

A salute to Steve Reich at the Gardner         

It’s customary to file Reich under the minimalism tag, but the label is proving to be less and less useful these days. The steady pulse and gradually shifting rhythms are still there, but his best pieces are so complex, with so many compositional elements, that the label rings hollow. George Steel, Miller Theatre’s director and the host of the “Composer Portraits” series, agrees. “It’s a useful term, because people sort of know you mean Steve Reich or people following Steve,” he says over the phone from his office. “But is there a minimal amount of material? No, they’re very rich pieces.” Perhaps a better label would be Steve Reich, The Artist Formerly Known As a Minimalist.

More here.

Allan Kozinn in NY Times 3.25.05

As part of its Composer Portraits series, the Miller Theater is devoting an evening to Steve Reich, with two of his major scores performed by the inventive So Percussion ensemble. For So Percussion (above), the timing is perfect: the group just released a fantastic recording of one of these works, “Drumming,” on the Canteloupe new-music label. “Drumming,” composed in 1971, is a pivotal work in Mr. Reich’s catalog, and it has been getting lots of performances lately (the most recent by Tactus, a student ensemble at the Manhattan School of Music, just a couple of weeks ago). It draws on the techniques that Mr. Reich had explored in his early “phase” pieces – works in which two lines that begin in unison move out of phase as beats are displaced, creating increasingly complicated webs of rhythm, timbre and psycho-acoustic effect. But it also looks back at his studies of African drum techniques. A performance can take on an almost ritualistic appearance; in fact, as the performers moved gradually from bongos to marimbas to xylophones and then to a combination of those instruments, plus voices and a piccolo, a listener can imagine an exotic hybrid of a gamelan orchestra and a factory production line. The other work on the program, Sextet, was composed in 1984, at a time when Mr. Reich was taking stock after the composition of “The Desert Music,” a substantial piece for orchestra and chorus. Sextet, for four percussionists and two keyboard players (who double on pianos and synthesizers), begins with a figure from “The Desert Music” but then moves in its own direction.

R.M. Campbell in the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

The quartet, So Percussion, has been performing Reich’s “Drumming” since its formation in 1999. Who better than these young, talented musicians to tackle the difficulties of Reich’s famous score for percussion?

One of the most eloquent and inventive spokesmen in the world of minimalist music, the composer became intrigued with rhythm at an early age; his interest in Asian and African music came later. “Drumming,” the devlopment of a single rhythmic figure inspired by Reich’s experiences in Ghana, helped make him a celebrated figure and has been widely performed.

It would be hard to imagine a more persuasive performance then So Percussion’s — accurate, engaged and rich in vitality. Rarely does Western percussion sound so varied.