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Steve Reich: The Desert Music - Michael Tilson Thomas
Steve Reich, Michael Tilson Thomas, Chorus & Members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic
Steve Reich: The Desert Music - Michael Tilson Thomas
Genres: Dance & Electronic, Jazz, Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (7) - Disc #1

Michael Tilson Thomas's advocacy of American mavericks has long been a significant facet of his career. This disc offers an outstanding example of his championship of Steve Reich, whose stature among composers of his gener...  more »

      
   
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Michael Tilson Thomas's advocacy of American mavericks has long been a significant facet of his career. This disc offers an outstanding example of his championship of Steve Reich, whose stature among composers of his generation only continues to increase. There's a famous story of a 1973 Carnegie Hall concert with MTT participating as one of the performers of Four Organs, during which a near riot ensued, reminding some of the heated reception that attended the legendary Rite of Spring premiere in Paris. The Desert Music--given its premiere in 1984 under MTT--marks a departure for Reich from his writing for smaller groups and calls instead for a vast orchestral ensemble and chorus. This visionary cantata reflects the composer's belief that "the particular is the nub of the universal," setting lapidary but prophetic texts by William Carlos Williams, whom Reich considers the most resonant of modern American poets. MTT clearly understands how this music conveys its effect of moving not just through time but through space; he allows the score's harmonic density to coalesce into shimmering, mirage-like chords without losing sight of its complex overlay of asymmetry against regular, driving pulses. The chorus, too, is beautifully blended--sometimes imitating the iterations of percussion instruments--as Reich's musical textures oscillate between despair and hope, fire and light. "The mind is listening," says Williams, and MTT conveys its impressions with maximum clarity. -Thomas May

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CD Reviews

The Desert Music is worthwhile
DJ Rix | NJ USA | 08/20/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The Desert Music is beautiful music, tho not especially "minimal" (is any of it?) & less entrancing than Reich's earlier chamber works. The texts from William Carlos Williams are thoughtfully chosen & reflective of Reich's strong social concerns. The problem is that I happen to believe composers should be guided by a poet's voice. There isn't much guesswork with Williams' intended delivery because he recorded many of his poems. Williams was a very economical poet, so to chop up, reassemble & repeat lines of his poems is hardly collaborating with them ... or him. A fine example of a contemporary composer really hearing a poet can be found in Steve Swallow's settings of poems by Robert Creeley on the album "Home." The Desert Music is worthwhile, but probably not the port of entry for Steve Reich's music. For that I could recommend Music for 18 Musicians; Music for Mallet Instruments, Voice & Organ; or Different Trains. Bob Rixon"
Great composer, not in the best light
DJ Rix | 08/08/2002
(2 out of 5 stars)

"Steve Reich came to fame writing chamber music for his own ensemble, and with reason -- this is where he does his best work. For those new to his music, I can't lavish enough praise on his unique, brilliant works for smaller ensembles: Music for 18 Musicians; Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ; Tehillim. And there are good recordings of all of these.The Desert Music is Reich's first effort to really compose for symphony orchestra, and he seems to be trying to step into other composers' shoes, to write a great symphonic work in the tradition of so many choral-orchestral masterpieces. But really, this isn't where Reich's gifts are. His athletic counterpoint comes out sounding bloated, awkward, heavy, and -- to my taste -- a little slow. Nowhere on this recording does one hear the lightness of touch that this music requires. Reich's own ensemble approaches even his most rhythmically complex scores with grace, ease, and a sort of pop-music stylishness. Probably, it's not possible to do that with the mammoth 108 player Desert Music orchestra.There might well be a good piece in The Desert Music -- certainly there's some gorgeous writing. But I don't think it'd being heard here. Michael Tilson Thomas and the Brooklyn Phil do excellent work, but I suggest waiting for the anticipated release of Reich's chamber version of The Desert Music, which is supposed to be coming out soon. I've heard this version performed live, and it's much more successful than the original orchestration. And if you're anxious to get a piece of Reich in your home, he's got a whole lot of great chamber music out there on record already."
Huge sounds, huge lines
DJ Rix | 08/06/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The orchestral recording of The Desert Music gives you Reich's society colored in these wonderful huge dense sounds, which to most of his listeners is almost alien to their experience with his music, although most fulfilling in so many changing ways. The density of the music is an interleving bundle of soundfibers, a civilization that lives and breathes. If you like this piece you should also check out "Olson III" by Terry Riley - the city of this piece is a wild ride into the very fabric that we live in everyday. Democracy, or so they say."