New Music at Carnegie Hall: Carnegie Hall Commissions
Commission at a Glance
Double Sextet
Steve Reich
Recorded on Apr 17, 2008
at Zankel Hall


eighth blackbird

Listen

Notes on the Work

There are two identical sextets in Double Sextet. Each one is made up of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, vibraphone, and piano. Doubling the instrumentation was done so that, as in so many of my earlier works, two identical instruments could interlock to produce one overall pattern. For example, in this piece you will hear the pianos and vibes interlocking in a highly rhythmic way to drive the rest of the ensemble.

The piece can be played in two ways; either with 12 musicians, or with six playing against a recording of themselves. In these premiere performances you will hear the members of eighth blackbird, who commissioned the work, playing against their recording.

The idea of a single player performing against a recording made by that player goes all the way back to Violin Phase (1967) and extends though Vermont Counterpoint (1982), New York Counterpoint (1985), Electric Counterpoint (1987) and Cello Counterpoint (2003). The expansion of this idea to an entire chamber ensemble playing against pre-recordings of themselves begins with Different Trains (1988) and continues with Triple Quartet (1999) and now to Double Sextet. By doubling an entire chamber ensemble, one creates the possibility for multiple simultaneous contrapuntal webs of identical instruments. In Different Trains and Triple Quartet, all instruments are strings to produce one large string fabric. In Double Sextet there is more timbral variety through the interlocking of six different pairs of percussion, string, and wind instruments.

The piece is in three movements—fast, slow, fast—and within each movement there are four harmonic sections built around the keys of D, F, A-flat, and B, or their relative-minor keys b, d, f, and g-sharp. As in almost all of my music, modulations from one key to the next are sudden, clearly setting off each new section.

Steve Reich