The American composer Steve Reich pioneered the style of minimalism in music. He has been hugely influential on contemporary composers such as John Adams, but also on the progressive rock movement of the 80s with bands such as King Crimson and rock musicians such as Brian Eno. The Guardian has described him as one of ‘a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history’.
The Desert Music is perhaps Reich’s most ambitious orchestral score to date – a setting of texts by the American poet William Carlos Williams (1886 – 1963) for chorus and large orchestra. It is a highly symphonic piece which is inspired by Reich’s own travels in California’s Mojave Desert, the White Sands – and perhaps in particular the Alamagordo in New Mexico, which carries sinister associations with secret weapons of mass destruction and suggests a geographical link with the poet’s somber warning to mankind in the work’s central movement.
Another opportunity to write for large orchestra came when the St Louis Symphony Orchestra commissioned Reich to write his Three Movements. This work was premiered in St Louis under Leonard Slatkin in April 1986. As in The Desert Music, the sizeable string section is divided, here into two subsections which are placed to the left and right of the conductor to create the alternating antiphonal effect that is so characteristic of Reich’s style.
Hearing these performances, Steve Reich described them as ‘Incisive, focused, and intense’ and continued ‘this recording of Three Movements is the best I have ever heard. The Desert Music is full, rich, yet full of detail. Kristjan Järvi, the Tonkünstler-Orchester, and Sine Nomine perform with a relaxed rhythmic precision that perfectly fits the music. Bravo and thanks to all.’
This is the third SACD recording on Chandos by the Vienna-based Tonkünstler-Orchester, Niederösterreich under Kristjan Jarvi, its Chief Conductor and Music Director from 2004 – 2009. They are joined by Chorus Sine Nomine, one of Austria’s leading vocal ensembles and winner of numerous awards and prizes.