News Column

Review: Prom 37 BBC Singers/Endymion/Hill Royal Albert Hall, London 32/40

August 15, 2014

Tim Ashley



The programme for the late-night Steve Reich Prom consisted of two big works of protest triggered by the nuclear crises of the late 20th century. It's Gonna Rain, dating from 1965, is a direct response to the Cuban missile crisis. The Desert Music, a big, choral piece composed in 1983, sets poetry by William Carlos Williams written in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Both pieces equate repetition with engaged anger. Time has not diminished the impact of either.

His first acknowledged work, It's Gonna Rain was Reich's seminal experiment in phasing. Tapes of a San Francisco Pentecostal street preacher move in and out of simultaneity as endless reiterations of the words that give the piece its title create a tangible sense of unease at the thought of the black rain of fallout; later shouts of "hallelujah" add a mounting sense of apocalyptic dread. With the sound ricocheting around the vast spaces of the Albert Hall, where the lights were darkened to a creepy, penumbral blue, the effect was unnerving in the extreme.

The Desert Music, performed in its chamber version by the BBC Singers and Endymion under David Hill, posits the idea of music as a counterweight to the human capability for infinite destruction. The repetition of themes, we learn from the chorus at the work's midpoint, might be difficult, "but no more difficult than the facts to be resolved". Vocal glissandi sound siren-like alarms, and the panicky ululations with which the work opens and closes are a reminder of just how far away the final resolution of those facts might be. The work requires vast resources of accuracy and stamina from its performers, all of whom rose superbly to its challenges. Hard-hitting stuff, emotionally draining and exhilarating in equal measure.

Tim Ashley

The Proms continue until 13 September. Details: bbc.co.uk/proms



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Source: Guardian (UK)


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