In Istanbul, a Much Belated Premiere Executed Perfectly: Selected Works of Steve Reich.

TurkeyTurkey Reich: Ensemble (Amy Salsgiver, Kerem Oktem, Secil Kuran), Gulden Tezel (piano, synthesizer), Muge Hendekli (piano, synthesizer), Emre Gunay (percussions), ‘Reich: The Father of Minimalist Music” at Borusan Music House, Istanbul 18.04.13 (AM)

Reich: Piano Phase (1967),
Mallet Quartet (2009, Turkey premiere)
Four Organs (1970)
Sextet (1984-85, Turkey premiere)

I guess nothing could have exposed the sad state of contemporary music performances in Istanbul as blatantly as glancing over the program notes before the concert and seeing the phrase ‘Turkey premiere’ next to Reich’s seminal 1985 work Sextet -in 2013, no less. But such is the state of affairs over here: the classical music scene is mushrooming, but mass production is heavily tilted towards the classic white-button type, and it is still rare to come across other, often tastier–if biting, varieties. And it is by the altruistic efforts of private organizations and independent venues that we get to hear anything from past the mid-19th century mark. Borusan Music House, a subdivision of Borusan Culture and Arts, is one such company that has taken upon itself to introduce the new and avant-garde music to Turkish audience. They have been organizing many concert event series catering to a much younger and adventurous audience, and tonight’s all-Reich event realized by a young trio of percussionists and three guest musicians was a real treat –in terms of both material and execution.

The evening kicked off with two of the guest musicians, Ms. Tezel and Ms. Hendekli playing Reich’s experimental Piano Phase, an adaptation of his trademark tape-phasing technique executed organically on two pianos. There are two critical but crucial hurdles to successfully achieve Reich’s vision when playing this piece: a perfect sync between partners, and two pianos of very similar voicing and timbre. This evening, timing never became a noticeable issue, particularly with Muge Hendekli’s crucial cueing nods during phrase transitions. Despite the technical preeminence, however, the two pianos seemed to have slightly different timbres, with Ms. Tezel’s giving out a more metallic (and somewhat domineering) sound. The phasing outs, therefore, did not feel seamless at all times.

Mallet Quartet, one of Reich’s more recent works, creates a great contrast with the Piano Phase that preceded it as it demonstrates the composer’s transition from being involved with pure frequency overtones to exploring rhythmic counterpoint and harmony. It also signals his exploration of denser chords and melody lines. The work may have been composed for So Percussion, but it might have just as well been written for the young Trio and Emre Gunay on stage –so convincing and internalized their performance was. Ms. Salsgiver and Mr. Gunay provided the marimba duties with a healthy pulse, while Ms. Kuran and Mr. Oktem, on opposing vibraphones glided through tricky chords often on four mallets hitting all at once. The middle slow section, in particular, was played delicately almost like a modern piano singer-songwriter ballade.

For me, Four Organs, dating back from Reich’s earlier oeuvre, is not as interesting as most of his other works. I tend to think that Reich, here, overthinks and perhaps even overestimates the effects of dismantling a complex chord, as the impression becomes obvious to us after just a few repetitions. An alert listener can estimate the shape that the music is going to take, and what is left to wonder is the unintended overtones that result from less-than-perfect synchronicity from the four players. Tonight’s performance was cleverly aided by a graphical representation of the music projected on screen where each musician was assigned a different color, and the number of notes they played were represented by colored bars which made the experience much more enjoyable.

The Sextet’s, which I consider as an amalgam of two of Reich’s earlier masterpieces, Drumming and Music for 18 Musicians, first time voicing in Turkey went without a glitch –though I think it could be better mixed. The pianos were not sufficiently audible –neither were the vibraphone bows. But the six-person ensemble followed a very natural progression with regards to the changing tempo of the music, and especially during the transition from the fourth to the fifth movement by emphasizing the off-beats. The work’s crowning fifth movement was simply exhilarating. trio, along with their guest musicians, managed to give Reich’s music its due. We, in Istanbul, simply wish for many more evenings like this.

Alain Matalon