By Nestor CASTIGLIONE
n Tuesday, Jan. 17, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will celebrate the 80th birthday of composer Steve Reich, one of the great living musical masters. The Green Umbrella program will consist of two classics from the composer’s catalog bookending a West Coast premiere.
Reich’s art, which crackles with that peculiarly American sense of rhythm, scarcely betrays its composer’s age. Indeed, one thinks of the freshness of such pieces as “Music for 18 Musicians,” “Four Organs” and “Radio Rewrite” – to cite but three examples – and one may be forgiven for thinking that, in his music at least, Reich has discovered a personal fountain of youth.
Leading the LA Phil New Music Group and Synergy Vocals in next week’s all-Reich concert will be Jeffrey Milarsky. A member of the Juilliard School of Music’s faculty and the founder of its new music ensemble AXIOM, he came to collaborate with Reich personally while preparing the school’s 75th birthday concert tribute to the composer. It was a daunting task at first, Milarsky related.
“Steve doesn’t trust you until he trusts you,” he said. “But it’s a blessing to have a great working relationship.”
Now Reich has entrusted Milarsky with the West Coast premiere of “Pulse.” Co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the score’s world premiere was performed in New York City in November.
“It’s one of his most beautiful creations,” Milarsky exclaimed with enthusiasm. “It’s so simple, so pure and transparent, with beautifully intricate architecture. Looking at the score it’s shocking to see how few notes there are on the page. But everything tells. There are some great elements there that hurt so good. It’s a sweet and surprisingly slowish piece, despite its title.”
Preceding “Pulse” will be his “Mallet Quartet” from 2009, with “Tehillim” (Hebrew for “Psalms”) from 1981 closing the concert.
“This isn’t going to be a retrospective of Steve’s work,” Milarsky explained. “He had a serious hand in shaping this program. He’s interested in the audience’s ears. It’s something that he’s very particular about. He’s actually found a really great balance here. I think the key is his sense of color. This is a program with really widely varying colors. It’s got a great groove.”
Milarsky also singled out the “groove” in Reich’s “Tehillim” for praise – not exactly what one may expect in a work that sets verses from the Psalms to music.
“It’s one of those works that show off some of the best qualities of Steve’s music,” he said. “It’s so of the now, yet it sounds somehow ancient and timeless. There’s a primal sense at work here, like there must have been in the music that cavemen played. You can study it, intellectualize it. But, like with so much of his music, it just is. And it is something emotionally powerful – though he doesn’t include expressive marks in his scores. But the heart is all there in the notes. It’s music that is about the exuberance of the words. It’s hard to write joy in music, I feel. Which is why I’m in awe of this score.”
Milarsky then reflected on the ling trajectory of Reich’s career, one which wasn’t always easy.
“He had to fight to get his music performed. It was a fight to get his music played in venues like Carnegie Hall. Now his music is part of the canon of the young generation of musicians. He’s a master – and so hip.”
The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s all-Reich concert, which is part of its Green Umbrella series, will take place at Disney Hall (111 S. Grand Ave., Downtown Los Angeles) on Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 8:30 p.m. To obtain tickets and more information, please go online to www.laphil.com/tickets/green-umbrella-all-reich/2017-01-17 or call (323) 850-2000.