In an evening entitled “Pulse: Steve Reich and his influences”, the Aurora Orchestra set out to give three examples of pieces that influenced American minimalist composer Steve Reich alongside performing two of his pieces. The first, New York Counterpoint, was written for solo clarinet that plays across a backing track of pre-recorded clarinets. The timing in this piece was far from easy.

Timothy Orpen © Banjamin Harte
Timothy Orpen
© Banjamin Harte

British clarinetist Timothy Orpen did well to refocus his mind after a Nokia ringtone disturbed the moment the piece was about to start and his very first inhale. He broke the performance in good humor and said, “That was not the backing track I was expecting”. His timing was particularly perfect towards the end of the first ‘Fast’ movement and the final movement displayed his best qualities as a clarinettist. Orpen projected the sound of the instrument well without waving it around as so many soloists do. His tonguing on the reed was subtle without an accidental thudding, which is a hard feat with the melodies written by Reich. Orpen matched his dynamics with the recorded track well, though the track could have been a little louder to be at the same volume as the live clarinet.

The second Reich piece visually mirrored either side of the stage and the musicians sat opposite their doubles for a final explosion of sound. Steve Reich’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize winning composition Double Sextet consisted of revitalising, punchy rhythms and satisfying tonality. It echoed the structure of New York Counterpoint, but instead of playing with a recording, this time the Aurora Orchestra embraced the piece live. It was the best performance of the evening and a great climax to end with. The vibraphones, played by Henry Baldwin and Scott Lumsdaine, were aurally hypnotic and interesting to watch on stage. The music bounced back and forth between the two sides of the ensemble just as in the Stravinsky Concerto for Two Pianos from the first half of the concert.

The pieces chosen as Reich’s influences were each unique in character. British violinist Thomas Gould opened the evening with a moving rendition of J.S. Bach’s Chaconne from Partita in D minor for solo violin BWV 1004. Playing for 20 minutes straight with hardly any rests – something Bach and Reich both have in common – is no easy feat. The audience were motionless and you honestly could have heard a pin drop in the hall at St George’s. Gould seems to be one to watch out for, rising up in the classical world and becoming one of Britain’s top young violinists and a driving force in the Aurora Orchestra. Gould was followed by the Francoise-Green Piano Duo, who are two surprisingly contrasting pianists to watch. Seated opposite each other, one hunched, the other bolt upright, they performed Stravinsky’s Concerto for two pianos. Though looking very different, the outcome of their opposing playing techniques matched well. The piece was fluid, connected and the jazz-style rhythms infectious.

Béla Bartòk’s Contrasts was played in between the two pieces of Reich and that seemed to be a mis-step as it didn’t grab the attention in the same way as the Bach and Stravinsky.

This was a high-grade performance demonstrating young British chamber ensembles and solo recitalists at their best. Known for their conviction that classical music should be accessible, alive and relevant to all, the programme created for the concert was simple and easy to relate to despite not all being easy listening. The nature of the pieces being a maximum of 20 minutes in length made the music more accessible.