Published Dec 01, 2005Steve Reich is possibly one of the most influential modern composers in recent history; probably more to do with his effect on contemporary popular music, movie and modern dance scores, and even advertising jingles than his effect on contemporary classical music. His dreamlike, studied take on African and Indonesian rhythms has provided a sympathetic bridge for those forms to enter Western ears. The packed concert at the University of Toronto featured the Canadian premiere of "You Are (Variations)" for chamber Orchestra and four vocalists, "Music for Pieces of Wood" featuring members of the Canadian percussion ensemble Nexus and his seminal work for percussion: "Drumming." The concert started off with "Music for Pieces of Wood," which was a composition featuring clacking clave sticks expanding and contracting in rhythm. It was an exciting and beautifully played piece that brought the audience into focus with the brightness of sound and simplicity of its presentation. "You Are (Variations)" and "Drumming" followed, providing the immediate contrast of large ensembles. These pieces brought home Reich's ability to use the rhythmic sophistication of Africa and Indonesia, and the harmonic sophistication of the West. While the music lacked the ecstatic fervour of the former and the angular trance of the latter, it attained its own genius in the measured way it drew the audience into its own shimmering world. The doubling of the vocals and instruments was also an amazing tactic, providing an intimate connection to the form. The sound, however, was the only glitch in the proceedings, with the almost inaudible vocal entrances and a couple of incidences of feedback in "Drumming." While the compositions do call for the vocals to meld with the instruments the levels were generally too low a point made more interesting as Mr. Reich himself was on the faders that night. Considering the fact that the instrumentalists were in charge of their dynamics, it probably would have been a good idea to accord the same discretion to the vocalists. In spite of that it was a great night of music by one of the truly original lights of contemporary composition.