Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Reich's Pulitzer

Sheesh, it's nice to be able to say that, finally. Yes, this award reflects better on the prize than it does on Steve Reich. Yes, it misses Reich's very best work by a few decades. But—well, I'll get to that in a second. First, notice that the reaction on Twitter was, not surprisingly, swift and, a bit more surprisingly, thoughtful. Steve Smith was unimpressed by the committee's decision: "Lest it seem unclear, I am elated that Reich won a Pulitzer. That is not a source of complaint whatsoever"; but, "When is Pulitzer even going to award a composer for the right piece, and in the right year? Always 2, 5, 10, 50 years late." Corey Dargel was concise: "Let's just say it would be nice if the Pulitzer was a trend-setter rather than a buzz-killer." Yea verily. But (I'm getting to that "but" now) y'know what? The Double Sextet really is one of Reich's best pieces. To my mind, it's his greatest work in, well, decades. Being realistic here, and also a little sad, let's admit that the committee was never going to recognize his very greatest or most important scores, as obvious as it may seem to us that Music for 18 should've gone home with the gold that year. However, it ain't—as it pretty much did with John Adams' On the Transmigration of Souls—rewarding the piece solely on the basis of the composer's name, rather than on the the merits of the piece. When Adams won, we easily could single out scores premiered just a few years before as being far more substantial and deserving: El Niño, Naïve and Sentimental Music both showcase, on a grand scale, all the things John Adams does better than anybody else. Is Double Sextet overshadowed by anything Steve Reich wrote even in the past ten years? I said it before and I'll say it again: it's a great score. Prime Late Reich. There remains, however, the matter of whether the sex appeal of the ensemble premiering the work may have swayed the judges' decision. I plan to investigate this possibility further in the months to come.

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Blogger Graham Sleight said...

You've seen this, I trust?

April 28, 2009 at 3:18 PM  

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