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Voices at the End: Mesmeric Minamilism

Reviwed by John Daly-Peoples

Auckland Arts Festival

Voices at the End

John Psathas and  Steve Reich

Auckland Town hall

March 18

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

“Voices at the End” featuring two large piano works was a major feat for the six pianists involved but also a brave move by the festival to put on a programme of minimalist music. But, the packed Auckland Town Hall showed that there is an avid audience for such work. Hopefully future festivals will aim for other innovative work. It was also great that a  major American work, Steve Reich’s “Six Pianos” from fifty years ago could be paired with New Zealander  John Psathas’s “Voices at the End”.

“Six Pianos” is a minamilist piece for six pianos and Steve Reich’s idea was originally for a piece titled “Piano Store” that could be played on all the pianos in a piano store and was initially played on an ensemble of sixupright pianos so that the close proximity would  allow for very precise timing and avoid the  the resonances of grand pianos.[

The  six pianos played overlapping variations on a simple melodic theme for the piece’s duration. The developments and manipulations which  occur are subtle, the shifts barely noticeable, creating a mesmeric minimalism.

There are changes in the simple melodic structures as well in the rhythms and the volume of the different pianos.

Unlike many piano performances the pianists appeared to be less engaged with the music performing almost robotically, all part of a programmed approach to playing.

Overall the work seemed to be like a flowing river or ocean surge with waves and surges endlessly repeating, creating an ever-evolving organic entity with an internal life of its own.

In contrast to the simplicity of the Reich work John Psathas’s “Voices at the End” was more complex, almost operatic in its reach.

Inspired by the film “Planetary”  the piece expands on various themes around ecological and organic systems and the need to move from an industrial growth society to a life sustaining society.

The work has five sections which included texts ranging from the Sanskrit “Mahabharata” through to the greeting from the United Nations to others living in Outer Space sent on the NASA Voyager spacecraft in 1977.

In each of the sections there are different moods created from the dreamscape of the opening section building through the tone poems with the music becoming the dramatic background to a Sanskrit tale.

The various sections express  concerns about the social and ecological challenges and there is an intense dialogue between the pianos. At one point there was what could be a dirge or love song to Earth with an edgy counterpoint between nature and the man made.

The sounds and music range from the brutish sounds of actual bombs being dropped in war through bird song, passionate dance and jazz rhythms, Eastern music  and a beautifully mannered minimalism.

The six pianists in both works were Stephen De Pledge, Arts Foundation Laureate Michael Houstoun, Somi Kim, Jian Liu, Sarah Watkins and Liam Wooding 

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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