Monday, 24 October 2016

Steve Reich - Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards / John Adams - Shaker Loops (rel. 1984)

Steve Reich seems to be everywhere at the moment – I’m certainly not complaining! – so as my own tribute during this, his 80th birthday month, here’s his earliest commissioned orchestral work, Variations For Winds, Strings And Keyboards (1979) in its premiere recording from 1983.

Very much a natural progression from Octet and Music for a Large Ensemble, which were composed around the same time, Variations takes a long, winding melody played on the winds and organ, and periodically anchors it with impressive harmonies in the brass.  Reich’s most ambitious piece of writing yet, it was composed for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra but was first trialled in a scaled-down chamber orchestra setting.  The February 1980 premiere of that version, by Reich’s ensemble was broadcast along with an interview on Charles Amirkhanian’s KPFA Radio programme Other Minds – the whole broadcast recording is available at ubuweb , or if you’d just like to hear the recording of the piece in its original incarnation, dl here.

The accompanying work on this 1984 CD was the orchestral version of John Adams’ Shaker Loops (1978), another key work in the US minimalist canon alongside much of Reich and Glass.  The name comes partly from the inspiration of  the repetitive tape loop music of early Reich, partly from the tremulous, trilling sounds in the strings, and partly from imagining a Shaker church dancing in pursuit of spiritual ecstasy.  The four movements go through a variety of moods and speeds, and the whole work is essential listening in its genre.

A final thought  about this CD itself – that’s got to be one of my favourite classical album covers ever; the modern symmetry of that building suits the musical contents perfectly.  Anyone know where the picture was taken? If the building’s still there?

Variations & Shaker Loops


  1. Thank you!
    About the cover art, it looks like an image from Koyaanisqatsi…

  2. long, long shot about the building, it's seems like a building near the Den Haag centraal station. But again, it could be nearly anywhere (maybe the photographer credits in the artbook may help)

    1. sounds like a good lead, many thanks!