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Last night at UCSD, Art Power, and the department of music's , Wednesday @ 7 opened the 2012 concert season with a triumphant performance of legendary 20th Century Classical composer Steve Reich's works, including his groundbreaking, "Music For 18 Musicians."

The program was performed by the Bang On A Can All-Stars featuring Red Fish Blue Fish ( a percussion ensemble out of UCSD, led by Steven Schick), and, on the first piece, Reich himself.

Opening the concert, Reich, Schick, David Cossin and Evan Ziporyn faced off for "Clapping Music." This piece featured one performer clapping the same basic pattern, while the second, after a series of repeats, shifts from unison to one beat ahead until he is back in unison with the first performer. It's a very subtle shift, and it's hard to realize that the out-of-phase clapper is playing the same pattern as the first--just starting in different places.

"Electric Counterpoint," featured guitarist Mark Stewart playing live amidst a recording featuring 10 electric guitar and 2 electric bass parts. The original pre-recorded tracks were performed by Pat Metheny. The effect of Stewart layering his live lines over the pre-recorded ones was that of a dizzying "round" assuming the nature of an organic "loop-machine." The pre-recorded tracks pulsed like an alien heartbeat, and the layered live parts were mesmerizing in their complexity. Occasionally the tracks would dial down to two or three Metheny guitars, and it was in those spots where one could really hear the intricate mastery of Stewart's additions. Occasionally, his live parts would expand, and blossom out into key changes, or radical changes in direction. Awesome stuff.

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After a brief intermission the crew for "Music For 18 Musicians," assembled on stage-- and here is how it broke down: four pianos--( Vicky Chow, Aleck Karis, Stephen Lewis, Kyle Blair) ; four voices--(Jessica Aszodi, Tiffany Du Mouchelle, Bonnie Lander, Alice Teyssier) ; two clarinets doubling on bass clarinets-- ( Ariana Lamon-Anderson, Evan Ziporyn) ; violin--(Allison Roush) ; cello--( Ashley Bathgate) ; and eight percussionists-- ( Leah Bowden, David Cossin, Eric Derr, Dustin Donahue, Steven Schick, Jonathan Hepfer, Stephen Solook, Bonnie Whiting Smith).

The piece opens with two marimbas stating an obvious, interlocking pulse, which remains relentless as the pianos join and the next chord emerges. At this point, most of the ensemble is involved. The four vocalists alternating between synchronizing with the short staccato sounds of the percussion and the second rhythmic dynamic at work: pulses based on how long the woodwind's and vocalist's breath would sustain them. The strings followed this aesthetic, and the aural result sounded like waves washing up on the shore--occurring at slightly staggered intervals--giving a welcome organic quality to the intricate layering and repetitions of the tuned percussion.

The effect of experiencing all of this layering of motifs--constantly shifting in subtle instrumentation changes was kind of like watching a Tibetan sand painting being erased by a gentle breeze--only to discover a richer, more intricate design underneath the original.

At around 55 minutes in length, "Music For 18 Musicians," was a test of stamina--for the audience, and especially for this excellent assemblage of virtuosi performers. Both groups emerged winners. This composition helped catapult Reich into the elite of 20th Century composers, and, 36 years after its premier, remains a hypnotic masterpiece.

Photos by Bonnie Wright

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