Signal rocks Reich

Composer Steve Reich and conductor Brad Lubman take their bows. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Composer Steve Reich and conductor Brad Lubman take their bows. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Signal, one of the nation’s premiere New Music ensembles, celebrated composer Steve Reich‘s 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Music on Monday night with a special performance of Double Sextet, the composition for which he won.

Signal managed to sell out (Le) Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village so quickly that a late show was added, and that one appeared to be nearly sold out by the time it started.

The show opened with a rendition of Reich’s Sextet, an older piece. The crowd at the late show seemed to appreciate the performance by just six of Signal’s talented members, but most were really there to hear Double Sextet, which before Monday had performed only once in NYC, at Carnegie Hall by eighth blackbird, the Chicago-based ensemble that commissioned the work.Steve Signal performing

While the premiere performances featured six musicians playing against a tape of themselves playing the second sextet parts, Signal chose to play both sextets live, with 12 musicians onstage — two sextets consisting of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, vibraphone and piano. (Steve intended the piece to be played either way.)

I enjoyed eighth blackbird’s NYC premiere of the piece last year, but Signal’s rendition brought out nuances and beauty in the piece that I missed the first time. Steve plays with dynamics and tempos in the piece, and even seems to dip into a bit of phasing, a technique that he frequently employed earlier in his career in which identical lines fall out of sync with one another, creating a kind of counterpoint.

Six of Signal's musicians performed Sextet, the 1985 predecessor to Reich's Pulitzer-winning composition.

Six of Signal's musicians performed Sextet, the 1985 predecessor to Reich's Pulitzer-winning composition.

It was a revelatory performance by an amazingly skillful ensemble, led by conductor Brad Lubman. Steve clearly gave his imprimatur to the performances, attending both shows and taking an emotional bow at the conclusion of it.

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