To celebrate Steve Reich’s 80th birthday today, 3 October 2016, six pianists have got together to record the minimalist composer’s Six Pianos from 1973.
Well, they haven’t exactly ‘got together’ because each of the six has recorded his part in a different location.
After the widely acclaimed performance at the Acht Brücken Festival 2016 at Cologne’s Philharmonic Hall, Gregor Schwellenbach, Hauschka and Erol Sarp (jazz pianist from Grandbrothers), Daniel Brandt, Paul Frick (both of Brandt Brauer Frick) and John Kameel Farah have each recorded their own part on a different grand piano, using their typical studio equipment, in various parts of Germany. The layering technique meant after the first had recorded down his part it was passed on the next, until all six parts were complete. So the six characteristic and individual timbres of the performers overlay to create an overall picture. The re-recording of this piece is an interpretation of Reich’s composition but, far more than just that, it is also a modern approach to his idea behind it.
The piece features Reich’s signature sound obtained by phasing repetitive rhythms, so that the three pianists who begin, play the same 8-beat rhythmic pattern, though playing on different notes, and then the others join in with a two beat time delay. The curious nature of this ever-shifting stillness, means the repetitiveness is absorbing, never boring: monotonous enchantment.
Reich initially called the piece Piano Store, visioning it being performed in a piano store and, with other musicians, he would go to the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company in New York, after closing hours, to try out ideas. In more than forty years, how technology has changed; whereas in the past it was necessary to expensively group six pianos together or, indeed, go to a piano store to perform this piece, now pianists miles apart can record the work.
The pianists on the recording have differing backgrounds — electronic club music to classical — and the result is a testament to the piece’s enduring charm. After twenty-two almost-mystical minutes, the silence as the piece finishes is as loud as the timpani at the end of a Beethoven symphony. Mesmerising.
The ‘B-side’ is American minimalist composer Terry Riley’s Keyboard Study #1, a composition that proposes various possible combinations for the performer to choose from and repeat at will.
Gregor Schwellenbach — who plays a dozen instruments, arranges compositions for film, plays the piano and programmes electronic music — says,
Pianists often are soloists and lone warriors by nature. Terry Riley’s and Steve Reich’s music especially are open doors for pianists socialized by pop music and their audience.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.