Minimal music, the rhythm- and/or repetition-focused classical genre from the later 20th century, is well represented at Amsterdam's Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ. This will surely come to a climax during the 2013 edition of the biannual World Minimal Music Festival, but as Marinissen of Lunapark stated before this warm-up edition: "We just couldn't wait".

Asko|Schonberg © Annaleen Louwes
Asko|Schonberg
© Annaleen Louwes

After some subtle minimalist electronic tones from Tom Trago (more on him later), Ensemble Klang opened up the main programme in the concert hall with the piece 101 (2004) by Kate Moore. 101 was written for Ensemble Klang, who are influenced by rock, and that showed. The saxophones, trombone, piano, mallets and bass guitar grooved like a progressive rock band. But it wasn't all rock. 101's eerie harmonies and brass sounds gave me a kind of black-and-white thriller vibe. The piece embraced the element of suspense. My adrenaline level followed the clever rhythmic transitions attentively, as if I had intruded onto someone's property and was trying not to be discovered. Apprehensive patterns of waiting, crawling, tiptoeing and running repeated throughout the first 9 minutes, in which most notably the brass section conveyed a lot of enjoyably stressful moments. And then finally, as a sinister climax, the whole ensemble stabbed several series of powerful staccato notes, with especially the mallets adding a lot of strength. Ensemble Klang played it all with great enthusiasm.

As Ensemble Klang left the stage, Tom Trago instantly took over the wheel. Being a producer of house music with an interest in minimal music, he was invited to bridge the gap between modern electronica and acoustic minimalism. From a heightened platform at the back of the stage, he had been recording Ensemble Klang's performance of 101. These recordings formed the base of his live performance, in which he fused patterns of the gathered acoustic samples with lush electronic synthesis. His performance seamlessly connected Ensemble Klang's performance with a spacy ambient soundscape. A successful surprise!

Then Lunapark settled on the stage to play A Rainbow in Curved Air (1967) by Terry Riley. This piece contains typical elements of the psychedelic mid-1960s, the time of acid rock with its lengthy jam sessions. Lunapark's artistic leaders Anthony Fiumara and Arnold Marinissen took on the job of arranging A Rainbow in Curved Air for their large ensemble, changing, for example, the arpeggiated and looped synthesizer improvisations of the original arrangement into fast-played patterns for string instruments. The composition is modal, meaning it is centered around one set (scale) of notes, in this case an Indian raga. Interestingly, though, the violins in Lunapark's arrangement gave me something like a celtic vibe at several moments, which added an element of surrealism. The electric guitar introduced some of the aggression of avant-garde jazz, which also blended in well. All throughout the piece the electric organ was looping typical minimalist arpeggios, and the organ's warm texture dissolved into the other instruments' sound from time to time. The only thing that slightly bugged me about this performance was the cold and static synthesizer playing, which could have used a more experimental sound and a more improvisational playing style.

Tom Trago's next performance was backed up by double bass player Wilbert de Joode, who improvised with an audible and visible passion. A varied and well-dosed amount of experimental double bass bowing, plucking and drumming blended in very well with Trago's warm textures, with the ghost of deep techno music floating around as deep pulses pumped through the hall.

For Discreet Music (1975, arrangement Fiumara/Marinissen) by Brian Eno, Lunapark, Asko|Schönberg, Ensemble Klang and Tom Trago formed one large ensemble. Brian Eno wrote this piece as background ambience, so I wondered if the piece could withstand concentrated listening. But it did, very well. A sense of serene beauty drifted through the concert hall, well played, but perhaps a bit too serene for my taste. Still, it brought me a sense of calm. Almost like a far-east Asian music sense of calm, with beautiful melodic patterns made out of just a few notes. I also came to realize that Brian Eno must have been a key provider of elements for soft neo-classical music like Ólafur Arnalds and Max Richter.

After the ambient music it was up to Lunapark & Asko|Schönberg to rudely awaken us with the energetic Double Sextet (2007) by Steve Reich. The piece was composed for the American ensemble Eighth Blackbird, for them to play against a recording of themselves. Today the playback of a recording wasn't necessary, as Lunapark and Asko|Schönberg took on the piece together. Double Sextet consists of three pieces in an A-B-A structure. The first and third one are speedy, driven by interlocking piano and mallet chords while the other instruments play a set of excitingly suspenseful chords. The middle part is slow and breathes a darker, more contemplative atmosphere, thanks to a set of ingeniously creepy harmonies. In both the slow and the fast parts Reich proves that he has fully mastered his style of minimalist rhythms. Paradoxically, his repetitive patterns are very easy to consume, but also contain a level of unpredictability evoked by rhythmic shifts. The contrast in tempo between the middle and final parts gives an ever great boost towards the ending. Thrilling rhythms and thrilling chords make this one of the finest rhythm-based minimalist compositions around. Lunapark and Asko|Schönberg were given great power and they used it with great skill.