(after Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood)
Instrumentation: two pianos
Duration: ca. 9′
Commission: Morriss Center Dance Institute
Premiere: 19 October 2004, Sadler’s Wells (London)
The genesis of this work came about under unusual circumstances. I was originally approached by the choreographer Benjamin Millepied to create a transcription of a piece by Steve Reich called Music for Pieces of Wood. That work is scored for five percussionists, all playing pairs of tuned claves, but Benjamin wondered if it could be performed on piano. Since Reich’s work is set in five lines of independent rhythmic counterpoint, I initially thought not. Yet, as I investigated the matter further, I decided that two pianos could, in fact, play Reich’s piece without any changes to the original score.
By the time I had worked this out, Benjamin asked if I could write him something as well. After some brainstorming over frisée aux lardons and steak-frîtes, we decided that the ensuing ballet would be set on the two works: my piece would act as a foil to the Reich, but be built of similar materials, and the two would flow seamlessly one into the other without interruption. The resulting ballet, which Benjamin calls Circular Motion (and which is cast with four male dancers) received its world premiere performance at Sadler’s Wells in London in the fall of 2004, and has since been performed a number of times in New York.
In Pieces of Reich, I attempted to create a sort of prelude to Reich’s well-known work, but which contrasts stylistically with his famously minimalistic texture. Using the four-note cluster of pitches (A, B, C#, D#) that Reich employs as my point of departure, my work includes everything from lush, French-sounding harmonies to a quasi-fugal Allegro; free aleatory passages to crashing forearm-clusters at moments of highest intensity. My hope in doing so was to honor one of the great composers of the 20th and 21st centuries, while simultaneously making danceable and exciting music.
I am grateful to my friends Jeff and Karen Savage for giving me an opportunity to compose a brand new concert ending for Pieces of Reich, so that the work can be performed alone.