Repeating Patterns, Purcell Room, London

It is fitting that a movement calling itself minimalism should have come out of small beginnings. Speaking in one of the recorded interviews that ran through this concert, La Monte Young, one of the movement’s founders, recalled how he had simply wanted to create music that employed “minimal materials” – like Philip Glass’s 1+1, the evening’s opening work, with one man tapping on a table top.

Interesting though the major concerts in the Southbank Centre’s The Rest Is Noise festival may be, it is the smaller events that are often the most enterprising. The history of music in the 20th century is very much the story of maverick composers who began by pursuing their own paths outside the mainstream.

Who could have expected that a movement that originated from works such as La Monte Young’s Poem for Chairs, Table and Benches (1960) – people create squeaking noises by moving around the furniture, as seen here on film – would still be going half a century later? Or that it would have evolved into the more complex music of a composer such as John Adams?

This programme by the London Sinfonietta, entitled Repeating Patterns, was put together with the aim of showing where minimalism started. Some of the pieces clearly looked back to John Cage in the 1940s, when he was creating music from household objects. Others – early Steve Reich pieces, such as It’s Gonna Rain and Violin Phase – experiment with simple rhythmical ideas that move in and out of synchronisation. His Pendulum Music (1967) leaves three microphones to create rhythmical feedback as they swing back and forth – interesting enough, though Ligeti had already done the same thing on a bigger scale with his Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes, which is somehow a lot more amusing.

Jonathan Morton was the skilful violinist playing against a tape of himself in Reich’s Violin Phase. For the final work a group of London Sinfonietta players gathered for Terry Riley’s classic slice of minimalism, In C, which points towards the richer style that was to come. A whole programme of early minimalism has its longeurs – much too much of the same – but it still draws a good crowd 50 years on.

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