Radio Rewrite: the UK reviews

Highlights from reviews of Steve Reich’s new piece, given its premiere by the London Sinfonietta on 5 March, and toured to Birmingham, Brighton and Glasgow afterwards.

Igor Toronyi-Lalic, The Arts Desk (classical review):

Radiohead aficionados would have been satisified. This wasn’t a hidden homage. The melodies and harmonies of Everything in its Right Place and Jigsaw Falling were very audible, even when stretched and distorted. And they fused well with Reich’s convulsive syncopations – unsurprisingly in the case of Jigsaw Falling with its Reichian intro. What was interesting, however, was how the unfamiliar harmonies that Reich is forced to play with liberates him to explore a more dramatic palette. In the two slow movements, he revels in the dissonances thrown up by Everything in its Right Place, encouraging them to assume a Jewish cantor-like wail through woodwind colouring.

Peter Culshaw, The Arts Desk (rock review):

Like a piece of conceptual art, it may be the idea rather than the actual music that is the most significant thing about the world premiere last night of Steve Reich’s Radio Rewrite. There will be a hundred times more people discussing the fact that Reich has taken on Radiohead than actually listening to it. …

The first, third and fifth parts were faster and more recognisably Reich, and were loosely based on “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” (from In Rainbows), while the slower, more sinuous and melodic second and fourth sections used the better-known “Everything in its Right Place”. The latter has flashes of real beauty, over enjoyably dissonant chords, but as a whole isn’t entirely satisfying. Reich is more a rhythm guy and the slow parts at times left a queasy impression – like someone painting a strange coloured rose on top of a Mondrian or a Bridget Riley.

Laura Battle, Financial Times:

Radio Rewrite is a rich and impressive ensemble piece for non-rock instruments … Those much-hyped allusions are fleeting (most noticeable are hints at the melodic loops of [Everything in its Right Place]) and although the piece begins with sets of minimalist patterns, the journey through the five interlocking movements is varied, with periods of shadowy ambience.

Is it too much to read a sense of wistfulness into the piece? Radio Rewrite adds to a growing body of work that concerns itself less with the ringing clarity that has characterised much of Reich’s output, and more with the building of atmosphere.

Ivan Hewett, Daily Telegraph:

In the slow movements the obsessive “three-chord trick” of Radiohead’s Everything in Its Right Place kept surfacing, but so cunningly woven into a purely Reich-like texture that it was gone almost before you’d registered it. In the fast ones it was the urgent melody of Jigsaw Falling into Place that caught one’s ear.

But again, what gave pleasure was seeing how thoroughly the borrowed material turned into Reich.

It was a fine display of compositional mastery, which had nothing to do with remix culture, and everything to do with old-fashioned virtues of harmony and counterpoint.

Nick Kimberley, Evening Standard:

Radio Rewrite, given its world premiere last night, also takes material from another source but its reworking is different from what went on in his earliest pieces. Two Radiohead songs provide a harmonic and melodic backbone but Reich buries it deep inside his ensemble (11 players from London Sinfonietta, including amplified string quartet, two pianos and electric bass) so that the source intermittently bubbles to the surface.

There was the familiar feeling of being sucked into the rhythms as the pianos pounded or tinkled, the vibraphones shimmered and the strings keened wistfully. Yet gear changes were often clumsy and at times the results came close to mood music, as if the interlocking processes took precedence over the materiality of the sound they made.

Guy Dammann, Guardian:

Those Radiohead fans (and band members) present will not have missed the snippets from Everything in its Right Place and Jigsaw, but the piece absorbs only a handful of gestures from the songs into an otherwise familiar compositional framework, with alternating fast and slow movements, and oppositions between paired vibraphones and pianos giving structure and drive to the melodic material. In its instrumentation and quasi-renaissance voice-leading, in which the slow-moving lines of the melodic instruments are scrunched together, the piece’s strongest resemblance was to 2008’s masterpiece Double Sextet, a superb performance of which followed (and slightly overpowered) the new work in the concert’s second half.

Anna Picard, Independent:

An abrasive, shofar-like clarinet line and the shuddering muddying of harmony from vibraphones provided interest in a rather bland sequence of five movements. Reich’s technique remains a marvel. Nonetheless, after nearly 50 years of favouring the Early French polyphonists, modal jazz and African music as his influences, unmoved alike by disco, punk, techno, krautrock or Motown, Radiohead seems an odd place for him to start a relationship with pop: too thin, too drab, too short on ecstasy and heat.

From the blogs …

Devil’s Trill (Andrew Morris):

The songs are barely recognisable, having been subsumed into Reich’s familiar language, but something of Radiohead’s distinctive harmony has clearly rubbed off, particularly in the slower sections. [review of BBC broadcast]

The Latest (Brighton):

The Radiohead tag, it would be fair to say, was the biggest draw for the tweed-heavy crowd, but anyone expecting a carbon copy from the pioneering composer would have been severely disappointed. In fact, if you had not known it was inspired by Radiohead, you probably would never have made the connection. This obviously was not the point. With the fear of sounding gravely uncultured, the main problem was the rather relentless and emotionless style of composition, which after a while grew tiring. [review of Brighton performance, 7 March]

Lucid Frenzy Junior (Gavin Burrows):

Though ‘Radio Rewrite’ was the night’s sell, I probably enjoyed it less than the other pieces. How close the piece is to the originals I wouldn’t be the one to tell you. If anything, from the jagged staccato the pianos sometimes employed, I’d have guessed it’s origins lay with Kurt Weill.

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