It was the Prom I'd been waiting for all season, and it didn't disappoint. In the year of his 75th birthday, Steve Reich visited the Royal Albert Hall for a performance of three of his best-known works. Despite the late hour (it was the second Prom of the night), the hall was about three-quarters full, and the audience gave him one of the most enthusiastic receptions I've heard.
Reich himself performed on two of the pieces, Clapping Music and Music for 18 Musicians. Clapping Music was probably my favourite performance of the night. When I'd listened to the recording, I'd never really noticed the pitch created by hands striking together -- the piece had seemed purely percussive. In the live version, its musicality was much more obvious. It's a difficult piece to perform, and I noticed that Reich and his fellow clapper Rainer Römer rarely looked at each other, perhaps to avoid being distracted from their individual rhythms. Later, in the break while stage equipment was shifted around, I heard a couple of audience members trying to recreate the piece for themselves.
Reich was also one of the four pianists in Music for 18 Musicians. Though I'd often enjoyed listening to this piece on CD, watching it being performed gave me a whole new appreciation of it. Reich intended the performance of the piece to be a communal experience for the musicians. There was no conductor, and the performers faced each other instead of the audience. The pianists and percussionists sat off to one side until needed, and sometimes moved from one instrument to another. The effect was like watching a workshop or office, with all participants focused on the work they were creating.
In between these two pieces came Electric Counterpoint, played by Mats Bergström. Perhaps because of the less-than-perfect acoustics of the RAH, the recorded backing and Bergström's live guitar seemed to be at the same volume. This made the perforamance less effective than Pat Metheny's famous recording, where Metheny's live guitar is very much to the fore. Nonetheless, it was interesting to see how Bergström interacted with the speaker playing the backing track, sometimes bending toward it as if it were a fellow performer.