The Minimalists

The Minimalists

by Jussi Jaatinen


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The Minimalists

Orkest de Volharding is one of the longest established European new music ensembles, created in 1972 by composers Louis Andriessen and Willem Breuker to perform one work, Andriessen's piece "De Volharding." Its sister ensemble, Hoketus, has long fallen by the wayside, but Orkest de Volharding (literally the Perseverance Orchestra) presses on in a prodigious outpouring of concerts and recordings. They remain little known in the United States, despite having recorded works of Andriessen, Julia Wolfe, and Michael Torke for major labels distributed in America. This might change with Mode Records' excellent two-disc set The Minimalists, which features Orkest de Volharding's take on some of the major figures in minimalism -- Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and John Adams -- along with others who sometimes go along with the ride -- composer and critic Kyle Gann, Bang on a Can co-founder David Lang, and Orkest de Volharding's own co-founder Louis Andriessen. Before proceeding, it should be said that all of the performances sparkle with spontaneity and are tempered by keen self-discipline. Orkest de Volharding prides itself on being something of a "street orchestra," a group that can throw down and play under any circumstance and does not require a comfortable concert hall situation to contain it; its music-making is richly coherent with that mission and concept. Orkest de Volharding's artistic leader Anthony Fiumara was compelled to come up with fresh arrangements of Reich's "City Life" (1995) and Adams' now-familiar "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" (1986) in order to facilitate them for Orkest de Volharding's unique, big band-like ensemble of six brass, five winds, piano, bass, and percussion. Reich's "City Life" is an interesting choice as it is a "sleeper," a standout among Reich's 1990s compositions that enjoys some traction in the repertory, though it is not by any means as well known as "Different Trains." In this piece, Reich incorporates samples of spoken bits, sirens, and other city sounds in a gesture that revisits the scene of the crime committed by his "It's Gonna Rain" in a texture that's like a distant grand-cousin of Antheil's "Ballet mécanique," but with some anticipation of post-9/11 tensions. Kyle Gann's "Sunken City (in Memoriam New Orleans; 2005)" forwards this thread of continued relevance; its two movements progress from an Ivesian gloss on traditional "jazz" elements to a somber, Ellingtonian dirge on New Orleans' status once Hurricane Katrina put it under the water, though Gann shies away from pictorializing the violence that claimed some of the stranded in the first week that followed. Andriessen's "Worker's Union" (1975) is in a sense all violence, or at least continuos change; in the course of its 17 minutes. It is a collective improvisation guided by strict observance of rhythmic values, but only a general indication of pitch; to make this practical Andriessen revived the single-line staff that hadn't been in use since Guido d'Arezzo added a few more lines to it in the tenth century. Bang on a Can has recorded "Worker's Union" before, as has the California EAR Unit, but for some reason never Orkest de Volharding; it has its complexity well in hand in a way that suggests traditional familiarity and weighs the various options of this chaotic -- yet orderly -- composition very well. To some listeners the constant pummeling rhythms of the piece could be like punishment, but for others -- mainly younger, rock-oriented listeners -- "Worker's Union" will evoke rebellion and freedom, which is what Andriessen had in mind. The first disc by itself would have been a fine album, but Mode goes the extra distance through supplying a second, containing Orkest de Volharding's near hour-long take on Terry Riley's "In C" appended by the Adams arrangement and the first recording of David Lang's "Street" (1993), an uncharacteristically cool and static piece from Lang, though his various projects are so drastically different from one another to describe anything by Lang as "characteristic" is somewhat oxymoronic. Nevertheless, through casting the net a little wider, Mode and Orkest de Volharding seem to suggest that minimalism includes a bit more than "objects of charged neutrality" as a major label once described the genre within a different, older collection of minimalistic music. Mode's The Minimalists makes clear that variety of approach does exist within the style, and surface details that emerge within minimalistic textures are often the aspects one's ear finds attractive, as opposed to any seeming negation of such element. This is in keeping with life as experienced; while democratic systems may lay a foundation for the whole to thrive, it is often the hardiest individual constituents who rise to the top.

Product Details

Release Date: 10/27/2009
Label: Mode
UPC: 0764593021421
catalogNumber: 214


  1. City Life, for for chamber ensemble
  2. Sunken City, concerto for piano & winds in Memoriam New Orleans
  3. Worker's Union, for chamber ensemble
  4. In C, for unspecified performers
  5. Street, for ensemble
  6. Short Ride in a Fast Machine, fanfare for orchestra

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