A variety of instruments lined the Lawrence Memorial Chapel stage this past Sunday, April 24, as Lawrence students and faculty came together to perform Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians.” The piece first premiered in New York City on April 24, 1976, exactly 40 years ago, and Sunday’s performance celebrated this fact.
The New Music at Lawrence Series—a program whose initiative is to bring to the Lawrence Memorial Chapel Stage performances that are innovative, relevant and inspiring to musicians of today—brought this piece to Lawrence. The New Music Series concerts in the past have included Eighth Blackbird, Singer Pur and David Kaplan.
Before the performance began, Instructor of Music Erica Scheinberg gave a thorough introduction to the piece. In her introduction, she explained the genre of “process” music to which this piece belongs. “Process” music is music that is constantly changing just enough to be noticeable. She also noted that more than 20 musicians were on the stage—a perplexing fact when considering the title of the piece. However, not all of the musicians played at the same time; up to 18 musicians would play simultaneously, but no more. Additionally, Scheinberg informed the audience that every performance of the piece would be different due to the fact that the ensemble performing gets to choose how many times they will repeat each section. Lastly, she encouraged the audience to leave their seats and walk around during the performance. This way, they could listen from different angles and immerse themselves further in the meditative music they were about to hear.
My own listening experience of “Music for 18 Musicians” was immersive to the point of otherworldliness. At some moments, my ears could not believe that what I was hearing was live, right in front of me. It was thought provoking, atmospheric and seemingly infinite, though the performance was no more than 40 minutes of a seamless loop.
I applaud the New Music Series for taking on such a challenging work and the musicians involved in the project, as well as Director of Recording Larry Darling and Assistant Director of Recording Alvina Tan for ensuring that the best mix of sound was projected in the hall. As mentioned by Scheinberg, “Music for 18 Musicians” is a sound engineer’s nightmare.
I left the Chapel Sunday night more relaxed and introspective than when I had entered, in absolute awe of the powerful performance. If you didn’t listen to “Music for 18 Musicians” on Sunday night, you missed out on a marvelous escape from reality.