Performing: New York Counterpoint by Steve Reich
Paired with Artwork: Wind by Agnes Martin
Musician statement: When I first saw Agnes Martin’s Wind from across the gallery at CMA it looked like a blank canvas. I then walked by a few times I realized it was a perfectly symmetrical grid of tiny rectangles drawn painstakingly with a pencil. My initial thought was “Okay” but I kept coming back and spending time looking at it, thinking about the artistic process. Nannette Maciejunes describes this as “intense detailed labor” on the recording with the painting. [615-448-5095 300#] As a clarinetist preparing Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint I can relate to this process as the piece requires a high level of focus and daily diligence to have the physical and mental stamina to play it. Also, the work opens with repetitive 8th notes and I see those in Martin’s repetitive grid of rectangles.
About the music: New York Counterpoint was commissioned by The Fromm Music Foundation for clarinettist Richard Stolzman. It was composed during the summer of 1985. The duration is about 11 minutes. The piece is a continuation of the ideas found in Vermont Counterpoint (1982), where as soloist plays against a pre-recorded tape of him or her self. In New York Counterpoint the soloist pre-records ten clarinet and bass clarinet parts and then plays a final 11th part live against the tape. The compositional procedures include several that occur in my earlier music. The opening pulses ultimately come from the opening of Music for 18 Musicians (1976). The use of interlocking repeated melodic patterns played by multiples of the same instrument can be found in my earliest works, Piano Phase (for 2 pianos or 2 marimbas) and Violin Phase (for 4 violins) both from 1967. In the nature of the patterns, their combination harmonically, and in the faster rate of change, the piece reflects my recent works, particularly Sextet (1985). New York Counterpoint is in three movements: fast, slow, fast, played one after the other without pause. The change of tempo is abrupt and in the simple relation of 1:2. The piece is in the meter 3/2 = 6/4 (=12/8). As is often the case when I write in this meter, there is an ambiguity between whether one hears measures of 3 groups of 4 eight notes, or 4 groups of 3 eight notes. In the last movement of New York Counterpoint the bass clarinets function to accent first one and then the other of these possibilities while the upper clarinets essentially do not change. The effect, by change of accent, is to vary the perception of that which in fact is not changing. -Steve Reich
Hild Peersen is the principal clarinetist of the Westerville Symphony as well as its executive director. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Otterbein University.