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Christopher Abbot
Fanfare, March 2012

I strongly recommend this film as both a comprehensive introduction to the full range of the music of Steve Reich and as a fascinating portrait of one of the most interesting composers—or indeed, artists in any medium—of our time. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare

Christopher Abbot
Fanfare, September 2011

Early in 1987, Great Performances on PBS aired a documentary on Steve Reich titled Steve Reich: A New Musical Language. It was made around the time of the composer’s 50th birthday and served as biography and extended interview, with clips of Reich’s ensemble in performance. Nonesuch Records had also recently released a recording containing his Sextet and Six Marimbas. This new film, released in the composer’s 75th year, comes in the wake of the Pulitzer Prize awarded for his Double Sextet.

The two films are very similar. Each looks at the composer’s work to date and traces the development of Reich’s technique, from the earliest tape pieces to the most recent compositions—in this case, the rock-band piece 2x5. Phase to Face opens (in 2009) with Reich taking a phone call from NPR reporter Tom Cole, who informs him that he has just won the Pulitzer—surely a serendipitous way to open a film. Interspersed throughout the interview, which provides the film’s main focus, are glimpses of various ensembles in performance. In fact, that is one of the more obvious developments documented in this video: Whereas 25 years ago, Reich’s music was presented to the public primarily through performances by Steve Reich and Musicians, now the music is truly international, performed by new ensembles throughout the world.

All aspects of Reich’s career are touched upon, from the earliest tape and electronic works to the various phase pieces; the watershed of Music for 18 Musicians leads to the expanding horizons of the orchestral and vocal works, which in turn brings the viewer up to date with the synthesis and concentration of Reich’s various styles into such works as You Are (Variations) and 2x5.

Reich is an eloquent speaker and quite insightful concerning his own music and its place in the larger context of music history. Video montages that add another dimension to the film occasionally accompany the interview and performance clips. The only drawback in this otherwise excellent video is the sound: Billed as PCM stereo, the audio focus is extremely narrow, and even the musical segments sound like a sort of super-mono. Only in the bonus segment titled Talks in Tokyo with Steve Reich is true stereo heard when a generous excerpt of You Are (Variations) is played for the audience.

These bonus segments allow Reich to expand on some of the ideas presented in the main program. In Tokyo, Reich provides answers to (unheard) questions concerning computers (Reich uses them for composition and rehearsals, but also feels that “the computer killed the record business”), the connection between tape pieces such as Come Out and new computer music (he hopes the human voice is still used), how the orchestra of the 21st century will use amplification to replace the sheer number of instruments, and how his Remix album brought his music to a new audience.

Reich’s Brief History of Music is a short course on how music develops in cycles from complicated to simpler forms, citing (for instance) Wagnerian harmonic development leading to the dead end of Schoenberg’s elimination of tonality; this in turn stimulated Debussy, Ravel, Satie, and Stravinsky to react by taking harmony in new directions, which eventually led to the development of the American populist school via Copland and eventually to Glass, Reich, and the other Minimalists (though of course, Reich never uses that term).

This video should appeal to anyone curious about recent American art music; for those interested in the music of Steve Reich, this is the primer.

Rob Haskins
American Record Guide, July 2011

I don’t believe I’ve ever published any stories of my early experiences with Steve Reich’s music, and this is as good a place as any. When I was an undergraduate piano major at Peabody Conservatory of Music, I went to our director to try to get him to underwrite a visit by Steve Reich to our school. (I think it was some ridiculously small amount at the time, maybe $250.) The director refused, adding that this music would not be around for long.

As we know, he was very wrong. Now Steve Reich is in his 70s and recently won the Pulitzer Prize. This documentary was made by Eric Darmon, who also made an entertaining documentary on Philip Glass called Looking Glass. The difference between the two documentaries offers an interesting gloss on the differences between the two composers. Glass, always on the move, interacts with the people who work for him, musicians who are preparing his work, interviewers who try to schedule some of his time, directors who need their soundtracks. Reich is a musician’s musician; the bulk of the time is spent on his own chronological narration of his life and work and performances of various works including Clapping Music, Tehillim, and Different Trains. Occasionally the music accompanies dancers (for instance, a fabulous choreography by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker to Piano Phase). More often—unfortunately—the director furnishes dumb visual accompaniments to some of Reich’s music: crowds crossing the street to Music for 18 Musicians, a strange montage with projected words (and also the musical letters) for the last movement of Trains. Most exciting for me is the opportunity to see and hear an extract from The Cave—Reich’s wife, Beryl Korot, creates a powerful visual counterpart to the compelling music, and it’s quite difficult to get a sense of the piece without the visual element. Having followed Reich’s career for a long time now, I wasn’t surprised by anything I heard, but I imagine that many people will learn a great deal from the documentary;…

Kirk McElhearn
MusicWeb International, May 2011

This documentary opens with an off-camera voice, that of Steve Reich answering the telephone in his home on April 20, 2009. The phone had rung several times, and Reich was at first annoyed, then said that the calls meant either very bad news or very good news. It turned out to be an NPR announcer calling to tell Reich that he had won the Pulitzer Prize for his work Double Sextet.

For those unfamiliar with Steve Reich’s work, he is one of the founders and leading proponents of minimalism, together with Philip Glass, LaMonte Young and Terry Riley. Reich and Glass, while heading in different directions, have brought this music into the mainstream, and created a number of very important works that have marked the last few decades.

This documentary shows Reich at his home, talking about his music, and in New York, Le Havre, Rome, and Manchester, where he attends performances of his works and talks with musicians who are rehearsing his works. Reich is very open about his music, patiently explaining his ideas and techniques, and not adopting any sort of elitist attitude. One could say that Reich’s music is “popular”, in the sense that it depends on no complex techniques (such as serialism), ideology, and is essentially tonal and rhythmic.

The discussions with Reich are very interesting. He talks about his works, his techniques, and how he feels about different types of music. He does this notably in the “bonus”—outtake—entitled ‘A Brief History of Music, by Steve Reich’, where he discusses the main composers and their importance. The performance sections are, unfortunately, too brief to offer any real appreciation of this music, if you are not already familiar with it. I would have liked to have a real “bonus” with a full performance of one of the works that are shown in small bits, especially that of 2X5 by Bang on a Can in Manchester, in July, 2009. There are excerpts from many of Reich’s works, but all are too short.

The Talks in Tokyo bonus is interesting. Reich doesn’t involve himself in lectures. When he gives talks he plays a recording of a piece not performed in the concert that the audience has heard, and then answers questions. In this case, he played You Are (Variations), a 2004 work. The questions and answers are indeed interesting and worth listening to.

I’m very familiar with Steve Reich’s work. I have nearly all of the available recordings of his music, and attended many concerts given by his ensemble in the late 1970s and early 1980s in New York, as well as a number of others in France over the years….this documentary…is more for those who are new to this music, or who have a passing curiosity about Reich’s work. It’s an interesting program to see on TV, but it might not be worth buying, as there’s not much value in watching it more than once. This said, if you don’t know this music, I strongly recommend looking into Steve Reich’s unique type of minimalism. From his seminal Music for 18 Musicians, to the recent Double Sextet / 2X5, Reich’s works are among the most interesting in contemporary tonal music.

Rick Anderson
Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, April 2011

We don’t usually cover DVDs in CD HotList, but once in a while I make an exception, and this is an exceptionally worthy case. Steve Reich is a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer with a significant following in the US and Europe, one whose work as a pioneering minimalist has gradually been overshadowed, to some degree, by his more recent and more expansive compositions. He maintains a passion for tonality and for music that gradually shifts according to defined processes, and his music continues to be both complex and accessible. This DVD alternates between interview, rehearsal, and performance footage and offers a fine overview of his entire career in under an hour. Very, very well done., March 2011

Steve Reich: Phase to Face is for an equally narrow audience. It is intended for fans of the New York City composer (born 1936) and his technique of “phasing” (creating short, repeated patterns that move into and out of phase with each other, often through the use of tape loops). Reich himself has numerous musical influences, from jazz and classical Western music to Balinese gamelan, and has in his turn influenced numerous other composers. But his music is scarcely of universal appeal, and even audiences interested in his works—a number of which are excerpted on this DVD—will not necessarily want to follow Reich’s travels from Normandy to Rome for the world première of a piece called 2 X 5, written in 2008 and first heard a year later. The work is typical of Reich in many ways, being scored for five musicians and prerecorded tape—or two identical quintets on rock instruments. Reich calls it a “rock and roll piece,” and it is played using two drum sets, two pianos, four electric guitars and two bass guitars. Fans of the composer and his very personal approach to music will enjoy not only the documentary on this DVD but also the two bonuses, one an interview with Reich (taped in Tokyo) and another in which the composer provides his view of the history of music. Clearly not intended for a mass audience, the DVD is a specialty item for those with a strong interest in Reich, his music and his thoughts.

Anne Shelley
Music Media Monthly, March 2011

A student of both philosophy and composition, Reich’s musical influences range from Bach to Balinese percussion. Amid interview segments that focus on his compositional process, this documentary emphasizes Reich’s international presence by chronicling his activities in five very distinct cities (Le Havre, Rome, Tokyo, New York, Manchester) from late-2007 to mid-2009. Armed with his coherent yet unabashed extroversion and matching shirts and ball caps, Reich’s role varies at each location: in Tokyo, a city in which he is very well-received, Reich accompanies and rehearses Ensemble Modern for a performance of Music for 18 Musicians; in Le Havre, he attends the Autumn in Normandy Festival as the guest of honor and is treated to a performance of his Proverb by Paul Hillier’s group Theatre of Voices; in Manchester, he attends the world premiere of his 2x5, performed by the New York ensemble Bang on a Can.

The film includes several excerpts of Reich’s compositions, most notably his first (to survive withdrawal by the composer): It’s Gonna Rain, which exhibits the first use of his self-invented, minimalistic “phasing” technique that he used throughout the 1970s. His later works, which call for larger ensembles and focus more on sound colors than rhythmic process, are also represented in the documentary by Tehillim, Sextet, and The Cave. The disc concludes with two bonuses, the first being a liberally-edited public talk given following a Tokyo concert, apparently to an audience made up primarily of aspiring composers. Reich is frank about the challenges of composing amidst changing sales models and freely offers his troubled opinions on the effect of emerging technologies on the creation, dissemination, and consumption of music. The second bonus track is a face-to-face interview in which Reich—a man after my own heart—gives the history of music in under ten minutes.

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12:32:02 AM, 3 September 2015
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