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S & H International Concert Review

Andriessen: Dubbelspoor (1986), Andriessen: Workers Union (1975), Riley: In C (1964), Bang on a Can All-Stars, Alice Tully Hall, New York City, May 8, 2004 (BH)


Robert Black, Bass
David Cossin, Percussion
Lisa Moore, Piano and keyboards
Mark Stewart, Electric Guitar
Wendy Sutter, Cello
Cristina Valdes, Celeste
Evan Ziporyn, Clarinet, Saxophone, Harpsichord
Andrew Cotton, Sound Engineer
Special Guest
Terry Riley, Keyboard and Vocals

 

 

In a last-minute substitution for the scheduled Hout, the bracing squad of Bang on a Can All-Stars showed decisively that Louis Andriessen’s Workers Union is probably one of the masterpieces of the 1970’s. I recall hearing it years ago by the Netherlands’ delirious Orkest de Volharding, but perhaps as time has passed, the renegade brilliance of the score has led to even clearer, more incisive performances such as the one here. What impressed right off was the transparency of the six voices; Andriessen has much more to offer than non-stop aggression, and the Bang on a Can musicians negotiated his tense, yet spare exercise with complete verve.

The rhythmic demands are intense, with the meter shifting seemingly from bar to bar, and the ensemble often playing in unison rhythmically (rather than harmonically, since the piece has no specific pitch designations). Texture is important in Andriessen’s work and so is counterpoint, but in Workers Union they often seem subordinate to sheer animal drive. The aural pummeling reaches a climax near the end, when the musicians are instructed to create a sort of faux-national hymn, and the searing result created that giddiness one feels when musicians are completely immersed inside a composer’s world.

Somewhat calmer but no less intriguing is Dubbelspoor (Double Track) scored for celesta, piano, glockenspiel, and harpsichord. The piece begins with stark chords that slowly break apart into a mad whirl of energy, given a hypnotic spin by the BOAC crew. I loved the performance, but then came the jugular electricity of Workers Union and frankly, it was hard to think of anything else.

After intermission, composer Terry Riley joined the group for a lyrical and sunny In C, one of the first and best-known examples of minimalism at its most formal – and still at its most agreeable. The instructions are succinct, and can even be played by relative amateur musicians: the score’s 53 short motifs are intended to be played in order, as many times as desired, by any combination of instruments. The piece ends when everyone has played all 53 figures. Of the three recordings I’ve heard – Riley’s original, another with the Shanghai Theatre Orchestra, and the relatively recent one from Bang on a Can – the last is the one I return to most often. BOAC seems to have discovered a way of meeting the score’s challenges with a sunny clarity, coupled with rhythmic precision and an acute attention to varying the dynamic levels, that shows the score to be much more than the mere stunt it might be in others’ hands.

With Riley on the premises, the performers seemed to be having a hypnotically genial time, all cooking away merrily while the composer offered his own mellow contributions on keyboard and some Asian-influenced vocalizing. As the perpetual motion gradually wound down, I was struck with the musicians’ subtle improvisational skill, not to mention their ability to reach a consensus on the ending, given that the score appears to want to go on forever.

Bruce Hodges

The score to Terry Riley’s In C, including performance instructions, is available here:http://www.otherminds.org/SCORES/InC.pdf

 


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