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Double Sextet/2x5

3.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 14, 2010
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Editorial Reviews

Nonesuch releases an album with two Steve Reich compositions - 'Double Sextet' and '2x5' - on September 14, 2010. 'Double Sextet' - which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 - is performed by eighth blackbird, who commissioned the piece. The Philadelphia Inquirer said of a recent performance by the ensemble, 'Double Sextet is... among the finest pieces of our time... more than earlier Reich, it tips from exaltation to menace on a dime.' Bang on a Can perform '2x5,' which premiered last summer at a velodrome in Manchester, England. The work shared a double bill with German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk and was commissioned by MIF in association with Casa da Música (Porto).

'Double Sextet' comprises two identical sextets of flute, clarinet, vibraphone, piano, violin, and cello. Doubling the instrumentation was done so that, as in so many of Reich's earlier works, two identical instruments could interlock to produce one overall pattern. The composer says, 'For example, in this piece you will hear the pianos and vibes interlocking in a highly rhythmic way to drive the rest of the ensemble.' The piece can be played in two ways: with 12 musicians, or with six playing against a recording of themselves. Reich continues, 'The idea of a single player playing against a recording of themselves goes all the way back to 'Violin Phase' of 1967. The expansion of this idea to an entire chamber ensemble playing against pre-recordings of itself begins with 'Different Trains' (1988). By doubling an entire chamber ensemble, one creates the possibility for multiple simultaneous contrapuntal webs of identical instruments.'

In '2x5,' Reich expands his palate with rock instrumentation. Scored for two sets of five instruments (hence '2x5'), this 21-minute piece calls for a total of ten musicians: four electric guitars, two pianos, two bass guitars, and two drum sets. Performers can either play the piece all-live with ten musicians or with five live musicians against a pre-recorded tape, as Bang on a Can did for the premiere on the opening night of the Manchester International Festival. 'Clearly 2x5 is not rock and roll, but uses the same instruments. It's an example of the essential difference between 'classical music' and 'popular music.' And that essential difference is: one is notated, and the other is not notated,' Reich says. 'I had to find musicians who (A), could read, and (B), had a genuine rock feeling, and there Bang on a Can excels.'
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Digital Booklet: Double Sextet/2x5
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 14, 2010)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • ASIN: B003RXXZT0
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,997 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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I've known both pieces, especially the Double Sextet, for almost a year now (several performances, including one for 12 live musicians, have been streamed online off and on). Both DS and 2x5 have some similarities in structure (Fast/Slow/Fast, as is typical of many recent Reich works), rhythm as well as harmony, but they are distinct pieces. Unlike several works from the past two decades that were minor variations on a previous work (usually The Desert Music or Sextet), with Double Sextet, Reich takes off on some new directions. The use of prerecorded music and multiples of the same instrument is nothing new, but in combination with some very percussive rhythms and longer phrases, it sounds very different from what came before. Is this the piece that was worthy of a Pulitzer? Probably not-as Reich admits, Drumming or Music for 18 Musicians are probably more significant. But DS is still a pretty good work, and while the value of awards is dubious to many of us, it is good that SR was finally recognized after many decades of great music.

Regarding 2x5-some folks will like it, others will not, in large part because of the instrumentation and somewhat less imaginative percussion part. Personally, I like it-I think it builds on some of the best parts of Double Sextet, and overall the piece works quite well.

The performances are probably definitive-I've heard three other performances of DS, all of which involved eighth blackbird, and this is just like the others, but with better audio quality.

I think it would also be good to have a recording of the Mallet Quartet and Dance Patterns, the latter of which is already eight years old. I've heard them both, and while not as noteworthy as the two pieces on this album, deserve to be recorded.

One minor note: in some ways, I felt like the liner notes were one big advertisement for both eighth blackbird and, in particular, BOAC. Nothing wrong with that, but it felt out of place somewhat.
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Steve Reich has detached himself from his wandering on the plateau, heard with recent albums. Spurred by a challenge, he composed a very fine, indeed among his best, albums. The main work is Pulizer Award winner, Double Sextet, played by the six members of Eight Blackbird, of piano, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and vibraphone. [The sextet electronically played against themselves.] Although Reich has scored symphonically, his smaller ensembles have typically been mallet or voice dominant. This varied and broader group gave him a new sonic palette. Double Sextet has as bookends two strong pulsing staccato movements; the inner work is a quiet and slow inner discussion. Much, surely, is available for discovery with repeated listening. The second piece, 2 × 5, performed as electric guitar rock band, Bang on a Can -- as far as notes -- is similar to his earlier periods of pulsed, rhythmic form. At times it has a Pat Metheny quality and perhaps another edited draft would have helped. [Reich was chiefly interested in the sound.] The work, as above, is performed by a quintet, played against a recording. Again, the timbre of the instruments and combination may have refreshed Reich's creativity. I rate this album a ****1/2, with full marks to the first piece and bonus for providing Reich's new, exciting development with a well-engineered recording.
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I saw Eighth Blackbird play the Double Sextet (at the Kennedy Center) on their "Strange Imaginary Animals" tour. I was blown away by their musicianship and immediately bought all their CDs, and as a huge Reich fan, have been waiting more or less patiently for this one to come out as well.

The recording of "Double Sextet" is flawless. The performance is every bit as energetic, lively, and driving as the live show I saw. The piece itself (regardless of the opinion of one reviewer below who, from his criticisms, I have to believe didn't actually listen to the piece) shows a definite evolution of Reich's compositional style. The harmonic rhythm is at times very quick, far quicker than in "Music for 18" or earlier Reich pieces, and it goes places Reich never used to go. In some sections there are even two different simultaneous and clashing tonalities between the sextets. I found it very effective and very interesting. The finale is also very satisfying, perhaps the most satisfying of all his pieces. I find myself starting part III about halfway through (with the piano coming in at 3:22) just to listen to it end.

The recording of 2x5, I think, suffers mildly on a couple of points. One, the recording is *very* dry, which to my ears gives it a lifeless quality that it never quite overcomes. In addition -- and it may just seem this way being on the same disc as the far more exacting 8BB performance -- the execution is just not quite satisfactory, mostly in terms of timing. As a result it never quite seems to achieve that effortless 'groove' that one really wants to hear in a Reich piece. Bear in mind, I'm talking about a very slight distinction that may be somewhat subjective. In fact, on a third listening I found myself growing more forgiving as the piece itself grew on me.

At any rate, this is the recording to beat for both pieces, obviously, and at least in the case of the Double Sextet, I don't see that ever happening.
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lengthy reviews have been written already, but in opposition to others:
this is the perfect starting point to dig into Reich's world. double sextet as perfectly executed Reich showcase, but the second piece is the gem here. purist may not like that Reich widens his spectrum in exactly this direction, still 2x5 belongs to the most impressive and emotionally most touching works (and, unlike many other pieces, very dynamic, just listen through and you'll really start to float in the second part!).
and, yes, perfect in exactly this instrumentation, while older guitar performances of Metheny sound too 70s Rock-ish, this is timeless and lifts amplified guitar and bass use off the Rock sound.
agreed, the thin (almost like a Roland drummachine) drum sounds and sparse use of it may sound odd at first (I had my doubts myself at first 2 listening rounds), but that's simply a new way of using drums, like Reich says in his comments, just to add colour, not using it as rhythm instrument.
exactly this CD, together with Different Trains (in fantastic Smith Quartet version, Signum Classics Rec!!!), the classic Music for 18 Musicians and New York Counterpoint/8 Lines (Nonesuch Recordings) is what you should get first, and then branch out for the 'rest'. Reich CDs are riducously cheap at the moment, so this is really value for money.
Steve Reich: Different Trains
Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians
Steve Reich: New York Counterpoint; Eight Lines; Four Organs
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