Classical review: Reich/Currie/Glass, Royal Festival Hall


The penultimate weekend of the Rest Is Noise festival highlighted the best and worst of American ‘minimalism’: with a piano recital in which Andrew Zolinsky showed what spells Cage and Feldman could weave through the suggestive use of silence, and with rare personal appearances by the movement’s high priests, Steve Reich and Philip Glass. 

Reich launched his concert by humbly playing secondo to Colin Currie’s lead in “Clapping Music”, after which Currie and his chamber group gave scintillating performances of three Reich classics, culminating in a magnificent account of his chef d’oeuvre, “Music for 18 musicians”. And for that the Festival Hall acoustic was perfect, allowing it to create the impression of a complex mobile gracefully turning, in which each musician played an independent and eloquent part. It was one thing and many things, simultaneously static and bursting with event: a joyful conundrum.

On the other hand, Glass delivered his four-hour “Music in Four Parts” at ear-battering volume, and nothing could disguise the poverty of its invention, pace a programme-note preposterously comparing it to Bach’s “Art of Fugue”. Glass may, like Reich, have drawn inspiration from gamelan, but whereas the real Indonesian thing is wonderfully light-footed and intricate, his mechanistic version is a coarse-grained stomp.