all this, and free jazz.

Ades & performances of Steve Reichs music for 18 musicians at the Symphony Hall Birmingham

Birmingham’s Symphony Hall is a miraculous structure. An acousticians dream or a gamers vision of future temples. A tank of air ready to respond to the slightest vibration. There was a distinct lack of microphones in use during the performances of the night – to the relatively small crowd of around 900! The evening began with the free friday Jazz sessions in the foyer bars, where the public can enjoy jazz most fridays from 5:30pm – 7pm. There was a real good turn out of a hugely mixed crowd, so we enjoyed a pre show drink to a range of jazz tunes and a couple of really interesting jazz covers. We then, after ogling at the minuteness the jazz bands kick drum, made our way to our seats, in the stalls – my absolute preferred seating place (being the middle and all!) and waited for the show to begin.

The lights dimmed, not quite enough, and composer/conductor Ades commanded the orchestra into a near hour flurry of melody, change and drama. At first thought one could have judged the symphony hall as quite, but as the music went on the room almost seemed to charge with energy as my ears adjusted and the clarity of the room started to become apparent. Ades pieces were sinked to visuals, which if i’m honest I was not entertained by. I may just be overtly audio oriented at times but the visuals and the audio did not gel well, which of course isn’t always the idea, however they seemed a little too technological for my liking. Almost classic VJ style or dare I say it a rather impressive version of windows media player! Of course i’d never claim my skills in graphics are not up to these standards, and there were some really interesting and hypnotic images throughout the work. It’d be interesting to know if it was programmed to respond to the audio, using MAx or Pd say, or whether it’s a linear video – in which case the artists have worked very closely on the sync indeed!

The post interval show the consisted of the CBSO performing Reichs’ Music for 18 musicians. I’ve never listened to the duration of this splendid composition and i’m honestly glad I hadn’t before this occasion. I have only heard extracts, which I enjoyed. I am a fan of Reich but nothing prepared me for the splendor of this piece. So intricate, so simple yet so complex. I had a great experience listening to the 55 minute piece for the first time and it was defiantly one of my most enjoyable experiences with live music in my life so far. Five people playing two pianos, repeating, phasing and counterpointing. Musicians wandering, swapping instruments and patterns interchanging, intertwining to create a sound that filled the hall. The harmonies, the harmonics and the rhythmic patterns caused by the phase patterns and thick syncopation really do create some amazing and interesting listening material. With plenty of change and relationships in the “mix” for analysis; aural, and perhaps mental, phenomena are a key part of what attracts me to Reichs work. Pieces like It’s Gonna Rain which repeats the title phrase for its duration give the audience chance to breakdown sounds and listen in different ways. Encouraging deep or reduced listening modes and challenging the listener to a really intense engagement.

I’d highly recommend going to see any of Reichs work being performed. The compositions are incredible and the performers who have studied the pieces are all amongst the highest standard in the world, to perform pieces like these takes a great amount of skill concentration and a wonderful intuition for complex music forms. I will definatley be frequenting Birmingham Symphony Hall and believe me if you keen on sound, audio or music (and most definitely if physics is your thing) then you should definitely book a visit to this wonderful sounding building.

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