New York Counterpoint (1985), Steve Reich

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New York Counterpoint (1985), Steve Reich
Year of Composition:    
Susan Fancher


Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Friday, June 16, 2000
The games people play
Herman Trotter

Some curious eye and mind games were going on during the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's concert-opening performance of Steve Reich's 1985 "New York Counterpoint." Originally written for a live clarinetist playing against a pre-recorded tape of 11 clarinets, Tuesday's performance offered a transcription by the ASQ's Susan Fancher for four saxes and tape.
A tape track in pulsing waves was ultimately answered by the live performers, first in typically Reichian undulating rhythmic patterns, then alternating with clearly demarked melodic germs treated in similar fashion. The rhythmic profile changed periodically but always retained the tape-first, instruments-later pattern of dialogue, eventually rising in intensity to create a rather shrill, treble-dominated texture. For many listeners it was a challenging game to keep track of the deceptive counterpoint of the subtle entrances and exits of the live and taped sounds.

Arguably the most exciting performance of the evening was Reich's 1984 Sextet for amplified keyboards, mallet instruments and percussion. The incessant alternation at the outset of aggressive right hand-left hand chord changes (two pianos, six hands) set the overall tone for this arch form, five movement work. There were intriguing eerie ringing sounds generated by bowing the ends of vibraphone bars and some unesual-textures provided by a pair of synthesizers playing a sort of floating line that seemed a cross between a basso continuo and an ostinato.

Much of the playing was in rhythmic unison, with the concluding movement reaching a peak of intensity that was both hypnotic and infectious. In its wake, however, some of us were left with more admiration for the extraordinary lockstep ensemble of the performers than for the music itself.

Reich's trailblazing 1972 "Clapping Music" was performed by the composer and Craig Bitterman. It's a tour de force of both innovation and execution, but its limited point was made many years ago and, although still rhythmically catchy, it holds little interest the fifth or sixth time around.

The concluding 1995 "City Life" for the June in Buffalo Chamber Orchestra and sampled city sounds, conducted by Bradley Lubman, seemed a disappointment. At this point in the program the fuller, more colorful sound of the chamber orchestra was welcome, but despite the composer's assurance that prerecorded samples of such sounds as voices, car horns, pile drivers, sirens, subway chimes and air brakes would be fed into the musical context by "sampling keyboards," the sounds they produced were largely distorted or unintelligible and lost their effect.

New York Counterpoint (1985), Steve Reich
The games people play
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Sunday, February 28, 1999
Quartet's newest member contributing quickly
Garaud MacTaggart

Soprano saxophonist Susan Fancher, the latest addition to the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, has made an immediate impact.
Not only has the group gotten the services of another fine musician, but her versatile arrangements are adding some new life to an already interesting ensemble.
This was apparent at Saturday afternoon’s fine Slee Hall concert where three of the five compositions played were set by Fancher, and one came into the quartet’s repertoire by the happy fact of her marriage to composer Mark Engebretson. The only standard work for saxophone quartet played by the group was a piece by Alexander Glazunov.
Two snippets from 15th century master Josquin des Pres opened the program. “El Grillo” was a lively little tune, but the somewhat longer “Ave Maria” was a meatier example of Josquin’s superb part writing. Next up was a wonderful rendition of the Glazunov quartet with thinly disguised Russian folk themes rearing their heads in the finale.
The Engebretson piece, “Tell no more of Enchanted Days,” led off the second half of the concert and proved to be quite interesting.
As a saxophonist himself, Engebretson crafted the music to lie well beneath the musician’s fingertips while engaging in a series of standard late 20th-century compositional tools.
Included in this palette of sounds were over-blowing, quarter tones and, during the second movement, one part where the tenor saxophonist, Stephen Rosenthal, moved his instrument closer to a microphone and then played on the keys without blowing into the mouthpiece. It provided an interesting percussive effect as the keys made subtly different sounds depending on their location on the body of the instrument.
Fancher’s arrangement of Steve Reich’s “New York Counterpoint” is, evidently, already a fixture in the arsenal of other saxophone quartets. It features a prerecorded group (on CD) of seven saxophones playing music while a live quartet of saxophonists plays against and with the recording. It is, essentially, another one of those experiments with tape loops and real-time music that has been a feature of much later 20th-century music but updated with a digital twist.

Ave Maria, Josquin Desprez
Quatuor (1931), Alexander Glazunov
Tell no more of Enchanted Days (1992), Mark Engebretson
New York Counterpoint (1985), Steve Reich
Quartet's newest member contributing quickly