April 1, 2018

"That night, it didn’t take long for some rather prominent coughing to break out, before the crowd let loose with less subtle forms of protest: boos and catcalls..."

"... the agitation growing over the course of the piece’s 15-plus minutes. At one point, an older woman approached the stage, took off a shoe, and banged it on the stage, imploring the ensemble—which included [the composer Steve] Reich and [the conductor Michael] Tilson Thomas—to stop. Someone else sprinted down an aisle, yelling, 'All right! I confess!' Other aggrieved patrons simply left. With the commotion escalating, the musicians could barely hear each other play, forcing Tilson Thomas to call out the beats over the noise. This was no easy task... The musicians continued on, and after it was all over, the audience exploded—with plenty of bravos to counter the detractors’ boos. When the musicians walked off the stage, Reich was, as he remembered it, 'as white as a sheet.' Yet Tilson Thomas was practically gleeful: 'I said, Steve, this is the greatest thing that’s happened. Nothing like this has happened since the premiere of The Rite of Spring. For sure, by tomorrow, everyone in the world is going to know about you and your music. And that’s just what happened.'"

From "Organ Grinding/When the audience revolted at Carnegie Hall" by Sudip Bose — about a performance of this Steve Reich piece at Carnegie Hall in 1973:



Imagine acting like that at Carnegie Hall!

89 comments:

David said...

"Imagine acting like that at Carnegie Hall!"

Opera patrons can be brutal to a struggling singer.

tcrosse said...

Opera patrons can be brutal to a struggling singer.

So can the audience at the Apollo.

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

The 'All right! I confess!' is pretty funny.

john said...

... "musical equivalent of the Stockholm Syndrome" lol

gspencer said...

I know the Carnegie Hall area; finding a nearby bar was not hard to do, especially in the 1970s. Have some drinks, wait it out, then go back for the rest of the program. Those CH tickets aren't cheap.

southcentralpa said...

I have always wanted a performance of Beethoven's Fifth where the audience could whoop and holler like in "PDQ Bach On the Air" (preferably minus the horn flub).

Paul Zrimsek said...

I didn't mind it terribly, but I do wonder what possessed them to program it as part of an orchestral concert.

Achilles said...

Did the audience know what was coming when they bought the tickets?

robother said...

The Streisand Effect strikes again.

Sarah from VA said...

Well, I didn't listen to all 15 minutes of the piece, but the first two minutes were interesting. I can kind of see what he was talking about. (It doesn't interest me enough to keep listening, though, especially with my young children trying to fall asleep. "Mom, what is that noise??") Fifteen minutes is a long time to endure that kind of repetition -- but surely classical music patrons have suffered through much longer pieces more gracefully.

Michael Tilson Thomas is a character. I attended a concert of the "youTube symphony orchestra" that he directed (because my future husband was in the orchestra) and it was an interesting mix of very by-the-book classical stuff and then completely off the wall pieces like this.

gspencer said...

"Fifteen minutes is a long time to endure that kind of repetition"

Getting a youtube sample gives you the benefit to check out a sample at the beginning, some middle place, and the end. Then you can make the chuck-it decision.

After that terrible piece, try this MTC rendition of Danny Boy. Most will like it,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnDGID-nf3M

Jack Wayne said...

The musicians needed to be put out of the audiences’ misery.

Rabel said...

I tried to listen to the piece in the video but I kept hearing my phone ringing. It was confusing.

Tank said...

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

The 'All right! I confess!' is pretty funny.


Well, you're right about that. That is funny.

Went to a concert a few years back at what used to be the John Harms Theatre in Englewood, NJ. A comedian came on before the band, and was the unfunniest person ever. Booooos for half an hour until he said, as he was walking off the stage, "you've been a great audience." First funny thing he said that night.

rhhardin said...

There was a 50s Hifi recording demo record called "Speed the Parting Guest."

YoungHegelian said...

That's why it's called minimalism, folks!

Every now & then in college, me & fellow dorm member who was fond of 20th C classical would put on Terry Riley in C for a listen to.

I've liked 20th classical since I was 14, but minimalism was never really my cup of tea. I preferred the "dense pack" kind of guys.

Darrell said...
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Darrell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darrell said...

They should charge $100/head to leave the room.

Jon Ericson said...

Must be blog sweeps week.

MathMom said...

It would be funny if one of them made a mistake.

Andrew said...

This piece does nothing for me. But Reich's Desert Music is a beautiful and powerful work.

fivewheels said...

"Did the audience know what was coming when they bought the tickets?"

A typical night's program at the Symphony here goes like this: 1) A traditional short work like an overture or a tone poem. 2) Some modern monstrosity by a living composer that you have to sit through. 3) intermmission. 4) A great and popular masterwork, such as a Romantic-era symphony or concerto with soloist.

People are usually patient with #2, because they understand that it is part of the Symphony's mission to perform new works. But I can imagine a revolt, especially if the music director unwisely programmed the modern work for the end instead of the crowd-pleaser.

the 4chan guy who reads Althouse said...

I had a friend who was a musician. I think he was pretty good, but I don't know if the music was any good or not, because it wasn't heavy metal. But I think he was pretty good at playing it.

Anyway, he was doing something on the guitar, and I was amazed, I absolutely loved the sound of it. So I asked him what song it was, and he said it wasn't a song, he was just playing a chromatic scale. Which didn't mean anything to me. I mean, I know people use the word 'scale' in music, but when I hear the word I usually just think of fish.

So he says that the chromatic scale is just play a note, then the note next to that one, then the note next to that one, and so on, like that. And that totally makes sense to me: you would think all instruments should be played that way.

Then he says it's not really melodical, which I think means he didn't think it would work for a song. Which I really don't get; I think a song that was a note, then the note next to that one, then the note next to that one, and so on, would be the most perfect song ever. But I guess music doesn't work that way, which is just another way that the world fucks with people who are on the spectrum.

I mean, if a guy on the spectrum made a guitar it would just need to be one string, because all the notes are there, one next to the other. And my friend said that a piano is kinda like that, but then when I asked him why there were black keys and white keys he got all confusing and shit. If someone on the spectrum made a piano it would just need white keys. Or black keys. One or the other. Maybe just black keys, because there aren't as many of them, which should make it quicker to learn how to play.

So he let me play his guitar, and I must have a talent for it, because I was able to play a chromatic scale right off the bat, and fuck did it sound cool. For one moment I felt like a rock star. Then he said he was going to show me how to play a chord, but it seems that a chord has you put all your fingers on different places on different strings, and that's just fucked up.

But there's a guitar store on my way to work, so sometimes I go there and plug in a guitar, and just play a chromatic scale over and over and over, real loud. And it fucking sounds great, but the guys there still ask me to leave.

Jon Ericson said...

Wow, Dude, your current schtick stinks.

rhhardin said...

Gould plays Sweelinck. It's a piano but it was written for the organ.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMdrWlCPSvE

The fun starts at 2:40

Bad Lieutenant said...

May I suggest a poll for who was able to listen to the whole thing or how much one person or another was able to listen to?

I just listened to the whole thing, and I also think I see what they (he, Reich, I suppose) were trying to do. The organs were aurally bit-mapping a four-dimensional castle in the air, is the best way I can put it. I'm sure that you could definitely find some curves in an analysis of the patterns.

It was rather inhuman and unconcerned with anything a human might want to listen to for his pleasure or instruction, no, well, I guess it was instruction, and there were brief moments of pleasure via resonances akin to an earth hum, which I quite like.

I think this must be what is sometimes meant by the music of the future.

I actually have composed stuff in my head like this, but not for this long at a stretch. It's the kind of something I hum in the bathtub to make the water resonate with my chest cavity. Very relaxing.

This strikes me as a theoretical exercise meant only for musical scholarship and not to be exposed to humans, or vice versa.

This was probably harder to do before computers. I do have to extend kudos to the maracaist, whose arms must have been precious sore after 15 minutes of keeping the beat while going slowly insane.

Bad Lieutenant said...


Blogger Andrew said...
This piece does nothing for me. But Reich's Desert Music is a beautiful and powerful work.

4/1/18, 7:41 PM


Yeah, he's better than this.

the 4chan guy who reads Althouse said...

"But Reich's Desert Music is a beautiful and powerful work."

Is that about when the Nazis were in Africa?

Bad Lieutenant said...


Blogger Jon Ericson said...
Wow, Dude, your current schtick stinks.

If by Dude you mean 4chan: Sir, you are not worthy.

Chuck said...



“Practice, practice, practice...”

mockturtle said...

I much prefer Bach.

Jon Ericson said...

Fuck you, asshole. Laslo's schtick is meaningful or breathtaking at times.
Kinda speaking through a keyhole in his current incarnation.
Yeah I listened to the whole thing, thought there were moments etc.
Go back to Ace of Spades, lotta company there.

YoungHegelian said...

@mockturtle,

I much prefer Bach.

Another minimalist, Phillip Glass, said of the last movement of Brandenburg Concerto #3, "And they say I write a lot of notes!".

Which is kinda true.

the 4chan guy who reads Althouse said...

I like the music of Philip Glass. I don't know if that is classical music or not, because it doesn't sound like Beethoven, but if it is classical music then I like some classical music then.

I think what I like about his music is that there are a lot of notes, but no note seems more important than the other. Like with Beethoven, he had big notes, and small notes, and pauses and shit. But Philip Glass has all the notes coming one right after the other, and I don't think the notes really matter that much, it's just the movement they make as they go by.

I used to have his "Koyaanisqatsi" soundtrack as a vinyl album. And I couldn't really tell one track from another, no matter how much I listened to it, but that was OK because it all sounded great as one big thing.

Then one day I played it on my record player, but I had the speed set to 45, not 33-and-a-third. And I'll tell you: it was even fucking better! Because now it had all the things I liked about the music, but it was even faster. And with it being faster I could listen to it quicker, which meant I could now hear it more times than in the time I used to listen to it before.

And when it was fast like that it kinda sounded like a heavy metal guitar solo, if the heavy metal solo's notes didn't really matter that much. Which I don't think they do, they're just kinda there to keep the guitar going real fast.

But then I don't know that much about music. It seems it should be like math I think, but in math you have X and Y, not X flat and X sharp and shit like that. I mean, if X sharp is sharp and X flat is flat, why wouldn't you just play X and leave the broken ones alone? Because two-plus-two equals four, I don't need to know what the fuck two-sharp and two-flat would add up to be.

Maybe that's why I like Philip Glass: if the numeral for Pi was music, it would probably sound just like his shit.

Jon Ericson said...

YH
Forget who he was writing for then, yeah, never was a fan of the Brandenbergs.
Notebook, Art of the Fugue. That's more my style.
But then again rhardin's vid of Gould doing Sweelinck.
My kind of aspie!


wildswan said...

I listened to five minutes of the Reich piece (Chopsticks For Adults) while reading other parts of the blog. That way I lost no time. When I thought I would have charged the stage I turned chopsticks off. Now I'm listening to Desert Music while I finish reading. It isn't as bad but I think I will derail the train in a bit. He is not my friend.

Jon Ericson said...

I watched the Koyaanisqatsi video production quite a few times.
I'm not sure (but I could be mistaken) that the music was better appreciated accompanied by those images.

becauseIdbefired said...

"Imagine acting like that at Carnegie Hall!"

Imagine playing that at Carnegie Hall.

30s: My kid says "What is that? Is that supposed to be music?"

1:30s: Now he wants me to turn it off.

2:00 : Now he's complaining: "Dad Jesus!"

2:30 : "Oh my God."

I better turn it off now. I might come attack me with his shoe, and I'd understand why.

Jon Ericson said...

So, Ace of Spades it is?
God be with you.

Jon Ericson said...

Wotta bunch of Philistines!

Saint Croix said...

an older woman approached the stage, took off a shoe, and banged it on the stage

I love her!

Someone else sprinted down an aisle, yelling, 'All right! I confess!'

My man!

Kansas Scout said...

Great scott! I'd want my money back! In fact, they should PAY me to listen to that.

Jon Ericson said...

They didn't have a doobie and headphones.
Doh!

buwaya said...

Re the #2 being a modern piece by a living composer that is a pain to sit through - yes, that does seem to be typical isn't it?

Best to find a show thats all #4

Some of the better modern orchestral things were written for movies, Poledouris for instance. Much of this stuff could have been overtures for operas, but people rarely write new operas anymore.

Granted a lot of movies would be better with music but without dialogue.

Anyway, I'm a confirmed middlebrow. Twisted by an album of Suppe overtures at an early age.

Jon Ericson said...

Granted a lot of movies would be better with music but without dialogue.
lol.

exiledonmainstreet said...


Althouse wrote: "Imagine acting like that at Carnegie Hall!"

Small potatoes compared to this:

In May 1913, Igor Stravinsky debuted his ballet The Rite of Spring. Though it is one of Stravinsky's most famous works, his creation was first met with harsh criticism, negative reviews, and... a riot.

Those in favor of Stravinsky's work argued with those in opposition. The arguments eventually turned to brawls and police had to be notified. They arrived at intermission and successfully calmed the angry crowd (yes, the show wasn't even half way over before people were throwing punches). As the second half commenced, police were unable to keep the audience under control and rioting resumed. Stravinsky was so taken aback by the audience's reaction, he fled the scene before the show was over."

https://www.thoughtco.com/rite-of-spring-riot-of-1913-723654

Jon Ericson said...

Wow, it worked!

Jon Ericson said...

Hi MT, 'sup wit choo?

Clark said...

So you got me to listen to Reich's Music for 18 Musicians (again). This is an incredibly beautiful piece I think. But to each his own.

Music for 18 Musicians.

Jon Ericson said...

Much better.

Kit Carson said...

oh, this was very nice. i hadn't heard it before tonight. seems to match the satellite falling from a great height.

Oswald Spengler had a lot to say about the West and modernity and great heights. Reich fits right in with all that.

here's https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNepFlGJlOk Reich: Music For A Large Ensemble

Jon Ericson said...

Goodnight, normals.

Gahrie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Big Mike said...

I listened for one whole minute. I take it doesn't get any better?

Gahrie said...

God that was awful. Go listen to the soundtrack of Game of Thrones season 6 episode 10 instead:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8Q3hCWjfOk

With the accompanying video:

https://youtu.be/B-EG1EQ9Vgk

Gahrie said...

I should warn you that the video can be quite violent in parts.

Flat Tire said...

To a country girl it sounded like sitting in traffic. Was that just me? Music for 18 Musicians was interesting.

wwww said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Freeman Hunt said...

"Imagine acting like that at Carnegie Hall!"

I listened to parts of the piece, and I can imagine it.

Freeman Hunt said...

It's actively annoying enough that when I turned it on, my husband burst out laughing. "*What* is *that*?!"

Jim Gust said...

I attended a concert at Boston Symphony Hall at about this time in which Michael Tilson Thomas directed this same piece.

It was awful. I booed at the end, from the balcony.

Jon Ericson said...

What's so funny?

Yancey Ward said...

Not one of Reich's better pieces. I remember listening to it at some point 25 years ago, and I don't remember if I finished it either. Someone above has already mentioned it, but here is a link to it The Desert Music. It was inspired by a collection of poetry by William Carlos Williams, which is appropriate.

I am not a fan of minimalism, but this piece has always held my interest for the full 50 minutes, which says something.

Jon Ericson said...

You Make Me

Jon Ericson said...

Glassworks -- Philip Glass

Jon Ericson said...

I should warn you that the video can be quite violent in parts.
Thanks, I try to avoid violence. It doesn't excite me like some.

Jon Ericson said...

Here's one for the Althouses.
Young Man!

Jon Ericson said...

Doesn't that just want to make you GAY?

Jon Ericson said...

Too bad it did.

Jon Ericson said...

We need more Althouses.
Maybe they can swipe some orphan from somewhere.
Raise'em up to be something more than a puke.
Good luck.

Jon Ericson said...

It could happen.

Jon Ericson said...

What's done is done.

Jon Ericson said...

Make the best of it.

Bad Lieutenant said...


Blogger Jon Ericson said...
Fuck you, asshole


Lighten up, Francis!

Hey Skipper said...

Wow, Dude, your current schtick stinks.

I thought it an absolutely perfect short story.

Proof positive people's mileage varies.

Unknown said...

Dylan got a similar response when he plugged in and played electric at the Newport Folk Festival.

I was able to listen to about 2 minutes of the Reich piece. The expectation, that was building in me, that a melody or something more interesting musically was about to begin turned to annoyance when it was unfulfilled. So I bailed.

-sw

Robin Eatmon said...

I have been to classical concerts and ballet performances where everybody was just so polite. I have been to a few ballet performances where people were so excited they were breaking out in spontaneous applause and yelling out in appreciation throughout. I hope the musicians playing the Reich piece appreciated having an audience interact with the performance in a sincere way. Love the Stravinsky story. Can you imagine a riot at a classical performance, today?

Paco Wové said...

The choice of instrument didn't help. The best of Reich's music (i.e., the stuff I like) tends to be very percussion-oriented, which I think works better for his sort of minimalism. The timbre of an organ is such that it can easily find itself in fingernails-on-the-blackboard territory, which is where a lot of this piece spends its time.

Drumming or Music for 18 Musicians much preferred.

Fernandistien said...

Freeman Hunt said...
I listened to parts of the piece, and I can imagine it.


Arlo Guthrie @"Bunny Wunny":

"I bet you're sitting there saying, 'Boy, that's two dumb songs already.' But it's too late! You already paid and stuff!"

Ironclad said...

Reich has written several very good pieces - music for 18 musicians. Drumming and my favorite - Electric counterpoint written for Pat Metheny. The first part of it is amazing.

If you want a bargain - amazon sells a 5 disk set of Reich’s best stuff for almost nothing.

chuck said...

For some reason, the piece reminded me of Wipeout, another minimalist work.

Khesanh 0802 said...

I once went to a concert that largely featured Mozart String Quartets which were a delight. Since this was at a liberal eastern college we were subjected to a modern piece written, I think, by one of the professors. I remember there was a lot of banging and clanging and nothing that made any musical sense to me. I, and most of the audience, was too polite to walk out, but you could feel the cringe and discomfort ithroughout. A small riot like the one in NYC would have been the best critique of the composer's desire to insult our intelligence.

tim in vermont said...

f you want a bargain - amazon sells a 5 disk set of Reich’s best stuff for almost nothing.

Imagine that!

Sigivald said...

I listen to Four Organs for fun (though I think Phase Patterns is the better half of that album).

But, then, I like experimental and electronic music.

Why did people go to a performance of a Reich piece if they don't like that kind of thing?

(I prefer Keith Fullerton Whitman's Generator to either, though.)

tim in vermont said...

Maybe it's a good bit of brain exercise, IDK. A test of your will power over your wandering mind. Are you really captain of your soul? Can you listen to the whole thing with attention? Can you watch Waiting For Godot without nodding off?

tim in vermont said...

To me it was very mathematical. Like a set of permutations, maybe about set theory or group theory, or something very abstract. I guess I prefer music I can enjoy viscerally.

Bad Lieutenant said...

If you want a bargain - amazon sells a 5 disk set of Reich’s best stuff for almost nothing


Hello, which set?

Believe it or not, I am playing it again at work from Amazon Music right now. Hearing it said that Phase Patterns is better, is encouragement to hold out.

Frank said...

hmmm...I just tried listening to it and found myself skipping forward hoping that something musically interesting would happen. That turned out to be act of optimism. This piece is boring, unimaginative, not melodic and certainly not beautiful.

I refer everyone to Roger Scruton's documentary titled "Why Beauty Matters".

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHw4MMEnmpc&list=PL-k5aCbd3AQmewcgw2H2cFUOJp13mgRg3