Steve Reich

Double Sextet / 2x5

"Beautifully poised throughout," says the BBC, "Double Sextet stands as arguably one of Reich’s finest works." The winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Music, performed here by eighth blackbird, has been cited as "among the finest pieces of our time" by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Also on the album, the Bang on a Can All-Stars perform 2x5, which Gramophone calls "Reich’s smartest, most sonically nourishing recording for years."

Double Sextet comprises two identical sextets of flute, clarinet, vibraphone, piano, violin, and cello. Doubling the instrumentation was done so that, as in so many of Reich’s earlier works, two identical instruments could interlock to produce one overall pattern. The composer says, “For example, in this piece you will hear the pianos and vibes interlocking in a highly rhythmic way to drive the rest of the ensemble.” The piece can be played in two ways: with 12 musicians, or with six playing against a recording of themselves.

In 2x5, Reich expands his palate with rock instrumentation. Scored for two sets of five instruments (hence “2x5”), this 21-minute piece calls for a total of ten musicians: four electric guitars, two pianos, two bass guitars, and two drum sets. Performers can either play the piece all-live with ten musicians or with five live musicians against a pre-recorded tape, as Bang on a Can did for the premiere on the opening night of the Manchester International Festival.

“Clearly 2x5 is not rock and roll, but uses the same instruments. It’s an example of the essential difference between ‘classical music’ and ‘popular music.’ And that essential difference is: one is notated, and the other is not notated,” Reich says. “I had to find musicians who (A), could read, and (B), had a genuine rock feeling, and there Bang on a Can excels.”

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Steve Reich