Ever since the establishment of the NJO Summer Academy in 2001, one composer takes centre stage every year, in the current edition it is Steve Reich (1936). During the NJO Music Summer, two hundred music students from fifteen countries will play a good number of compositions by the American grandmaster. The repertoire includes early works such as Drumming (1971) and Music for Pieces of Wood (1973) and more recent compositions such as Tehillim (1981) and City Life (1995). Reich arrived in our country yesterday and will be present at a number of rehearsals and concerts. Tomorrow afternoon, audiences can meet him in person at the NJO Music Café.
The programming put together by artistic director Wim Vos may be called ambitious, given the difficulty of Reich's music. Although it falls under the label of 'minimalism', it demands the maximum in stamina and accuracy from the performers. Nice that the organisation unceremoniously presents young musicians with music they rarely encounter at the conservatory. After all, it is at the heart of what a summer academy should be: familiarising up-and-coming music professionals with the hectic practice of concert life and the diverse repertoire that often needs to be rehearsed in a short time.
So last week, the NJO Chamber Orchestra performed four concerts, with two different programmes. On Thursday and Friday, Reich's Tehillim flanked by works by Arvo Pärt and Dmitri Shostakovich. His Viola Sonata in the version for chamber orchestra was tunefully performed, with viola player Anna Magdalena den Herder as dedicated soloist. The following Tehillim for four singers and ensemble received a sparkling performance and was met with cheers. Saturday and Sunday featured alongside Tehillim also Reich's City Life and the world premiere of In Your Dream by Japanese composer Yu Oda (b. 1983) on the programme.
By no means average concerts, yet they did not start rehearsals until Monday. American/British conductor Clark Rundell told me during the introduction that he was impressed by the energy and commitment of the young musicians, citing Tehillim the most difficult piece he had ever conducted: 'Not one bar is the same, for half an hour you are constantly changing bars'. It was wonderful to experience the fire with which the youngsters tackled this score, as one swirling mass. The percussionists clapped furiously difficult rhythms as if their lives depended on it, the singers performed the most complicated melodic patterns without gasping for breath.
It is a godsend for these young musicians to be able to work with Steve Reich in person. The highlight of the NJO Music Summer will be the Night of Reich this Thursday, 15 August. In a marathon concert, the NJO Reich Ensemble will present five works, assisted by coaches such as soprano Claron McFadden, who also collaborated on Tehillim, pianist Gerard Bouwhuis, guitarist Wiek Hijmans and percussionist/artistic director Wim Vos.
The evening concludes with the fourteen-part, over an hour-long Music for 18 Musicians (1976) which became a classic of post-war music with its pulsating rhythm and uninterrupted tension arc. It will be repeated on Sunday at the pop festival Lowlands, at which Reich will be present. He will also give an appearance at the final concert on 18 August, when the NJO Symphony Orchestra will perform its Three Movements performs. Reich will also be my guest at the introduction that evening.