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Cued Up

Set Your Phasers to Stun

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If there were ever a composer in no need of introduction, it’s the eternally youthful and forever hip Steve Reich. Tune into Sunday’s Cued Up at 2 pm for live performances of his Triple Quartet and seminal Music For 18 Musicians by the Axiom Ensemble.

Taken from a December 9, 2010 performance at Alice Tully Hall, this all-Reich concert features The Juilliard School’s Axiom Ensemble, a student-formed new music group directed by Jeffery Milarsky. Reich took an active roll in the performance, not only curating the concert (along with Axiom's upcoming performance of Reich’s Drumming at (Le) Poisson Rouge, which you’ll be able to hear on Cued Up’s May 15 show), but also coaching the ensemble on both pieces and mixing the amplification levels for the Tully performance.

The program pits Triple Quartet against the tried-and-true Reich staple and cornerstone of the contemporary music repertoire, Music For 18 Musicians. The Triple Quartet is a rigorous and chugging work in three movements that exists in two versions: the first was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet and calls for one live string quartet with two pre-recorded string quartets overdubbed; Reich later adapted the score in 2000 for twelve live players, which is the version Axiom performs.

Top among the many glorious head-banging moments in this piece has to be the unison violin lick at the climax of the last movement. You’ll know.

Music For 18 Musicians is Reich’s magnum opus. Of the many ways you can listen to this meditative 1976 score, it’s fascinating to place it against the severe aesthetic backdrop of total serialism, a complex and uncompromising compositional style prominent in post-War music. In this context, hearing Music For 18’s opening pulsations – a luminous, consonant heartbeat in the marimbas – is a revelation, launching one of the most original and utterly unique listening experiences in music.

Hard to choose, but high on the list of breathtaking moments in this work, (spoiler alert!) is the maraca entrance two-thirds through.

Tune in Sunday, March 27 at 2 pm for two energetic and committed performances by the Axiom Ensemble of works by Steve Reich, and again Tuesday at 8 PM and Thursday at 4 PM for encore Webcasts.