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The Independent Culture

Between the switching on of the equipment for the pioneering tape piece It's Gonna Rain on Saturday morning, and Steve Reich and Musicians' exhilarating account of the evergreen Music for Eighteen Musicians on Sunday night, the Phases festival's final weekend offered eight concerts, plus several other free events, of often glorious music.

If not everything about the planning and execution of this jamboree was perfect, it surely clarified that Reich is, at 70, not only one of the seminal creative figures of our time but also writing some of his best music yet.

The brand-new Daniel Variations, given its world premiere in that final concert, sets words by and relating to the American reporter Daniel Pearl, kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan in 2002. Its tolling metallophones and four pianos take off from the fresh harmonic and timbral territory already charted by Reich in the past few years, not least in the recent You Are (Variations), and takes it to yet newer regions of lyrical intensity and rich darkness. Daniel Variations was given a fine first outing by the Steve Reich Ensemble and Synergy Vocals under Brad Lubman.

Standards of performance over the weekend were, indeed, astonishingly high, as not only the composer's own group, often working with Synergy Vocals, but also the Kronos Quartet, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Theatre of Voices, Icebreaker, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Britten Sinfonia and a whole raft of soloists performed both many of Reich's own major scores and also music by composers close to him in a variety of ways.

Both the late-afternoon programmes bombed: whoever thought it was a good idea to get the BBC SO to play some Bartok in the dry-as-dust acoustic of the Barbican Theatre, causing a logjam of stage resetting that was merely the most spectacular example of a phenomenon endured over the whole two days?

The remixing encounters involving DJ Spooky and Coldcut were disappointingly dull revisitings of their contributions to the Reich Remixed album. And while a Glenn Branca premiere revealed his feisty, ear-splitting best, the new vocal work by Gavin Bryars, set amid another shambles of technical hitches, was drearily conventional.

But I will not easily forget the performance of Drumming on Saturday night by Reich's own crack team: a lot older, perhaps dropping a stitch or two, but mesmerising in their loving celebration of this complex, absorbing ritual that is Reich at his very, very finest.

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