Do you remember when Steve Reich, “America’s greatest living composer”, came to your school concert and you performed his seminal work Clapping Music with the great man? No? Well, Joshua Kellie does. Joshua was one of the talented (and fortunate) St Paul’s School pupils chosen to perform in a concert in honour of the minimalist composer on his 75th birthday. The programme was exclusively Reich: three solo pieces performed by Pauline musicians and the Smith Quartet’s performance of Different Trains made up the first half, the second being entirely taken up by his Music for 18 Musicians.
The evening began with a showcasing of the school’s talented soloists. Percussionist Joshua Kellie could barely contain his grin as he walked on stage with the composer, nor indeed throughout their six-minute performance of Clapping Music. His enjoyment of the pulse and the clarity with which he performed allowed any strangers to the piece to become acquainted with it in its true, mesmerising glory. Clarinettist Charlie Dale-Harris and cellist Joel Sandelson were no less impressive during their performances of New York Counterpoint and Cello Counterpoint respectively, both performing with élan and a real feeling for the style of the music.
The Smith Quartet then took to the stage to perform Reich’s 1988 piece Different Trains. This intriguing work contrasts Reich’s own boyhood experiences of taking trains across America in the 1940s with the terrible experiences of European Jews of the same era, with the reminisces of both Americans and Europeans played on tape. The composer then composed for the strings using the pitches and rhythms achieved by the voices as they talk. The result is an incredibly moving blend of music and text, the strings filling in the silences in a poignant manner. This the Quartet did with commitment and expressivity, always alive to the possibilities of the text and the beauty of the often strange music they were creating.
Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians is perhaps his most famous and influential work. The 18 musicians begin as clearly defined groups of different instrument types, and then proceed to break down these boundaries over the process of the fifty-five minute long piece. The entire work is built on a cycle of eleven chords and has the rhythmic, hypnotic quality common to all of Reich’s music: after a very short space of time each individual starts to blend into one whole sound, until it is impossible to distinguish a singer’s note from that of the cello or the marimba. The London New Music Ensemble, made up entirely of pupils, ex-pupils and teachers of St Paul’s Boys’ and Girls’ Schools, coped superbly with the demands of such a long and repetitive piece, communicating clearly with each other throughout in order to produce a performance that was entirely pleasing in its effect.