Reich’s minimal masterpiece played to an adoring crowd

Royal Albert Hall | Five stars

THIS week saw the death of Sir John Tavener, a twentieth century British composer who spent his entire career lapsing in and out of the public consciousness. The spiritually attuned Tavener first entered the spotlight after becoming an obsession of New Age-fixated 60s popstars (he was signed to the Beatles’ record label in the 60s) and did so again when his Song for Athene was sung at Diana’s funeral. For reasons less random, Steve Reich (pictured) – another titan of contemporary composition – has also enjoyed cross-over success. Where Tavener looked to the heavens, Reich looked across continents, finding percussive inspiration in Ghanaian and Balinese music. His use of repetition and looping was an important precursor to the electronically produced music that would dominate the mainstream in the late stages of the twentieth century.

To describe Reich’s music requires words that risk contradicting its most striking quality: accessibility. It’s minimal, pulsating, layered, hyper-rhythmic and hypnotic. But it’s also lush, warm, emotional and inviting. In his seminal Music for 18 Musicians, players stand for minutes on end over single instruments repeating short refrains before changing formation and progressing the piece to its next glittering stage. Wave after wave of melody is sent cascading over the Royal Albert Hall audience, and, if the standing ovation is anything to go by, they heartily enjoyed it.