Marimba

This short work for two marimbas, composed in 1994 for the opening of a new hall at the Nagoya music conservatory in Japan, is for Steve Reich fans in a hurry. Reich himself has said it’s comparable to some of his most famous works of the 1960s and 1970s built out of repeating interlocking patterns that very gradually move in and out of phase with each other. The two that immediately spring to my mind are Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ (especially memorable for its beautiful sound texture) and above all Music for 18 Musicians for a chamber ensemble heavy with marimbas and xylophones, not a moment too long at 55 minutes, and richly harmonic as well as characteristically rhythmical. But the changes happen much more rapidly in the four-and-a-half minute Nagoya Marimbas, and there’s more melody. The two marimbas play against each other one or more beats out of phase and create, says Reich, a series of two part unison canons. Although the two players have to be virtuosic, the musical processes at work here are unusually transparent.

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