Composer Steve Reich has called Daniel Variations "A memorial and a remembrance" of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. He embarked upon the piece at the behest of Pearl's father Judea and the Daniel Pearl Foundation, an organization dedicated to crosscultural understanding through journalism, music and innovative communication. The elder Pearl has said, "Danny was a highly principled person, a gentle soul and a mighty good journalist. He became an icon, and this work by Reich is a tribute to a life that personified our culture, our principles and our dreams." When the piece received its world premiere on October 8, 2006, at London's Barbican Hall (as part of the Barbican's festival Phases, to mark Reich's 70th birthday), the Guardian called it 'A haunting work that circles around alternating ideas of celebration and discord.'
'Daniel Variations' is both moving and unsettling, and, for the most part, understandably dark in tone. Alex Ross of the New Yorker observed that, in Reich's writing, there is 'A new influx of coiled power: fleets of pianos and percussion tap out telegraphic patterns, warning of the next big crash.' But Reich does offer a glimmer of hope to counterbalance the sense of dread, and the piece is ultimately an uplifting one. Over the course of four movements and approximately 30 minutes, Reich juxtaposes words from Pearl's life - including his final words - with phrases taken from the Old Testament's Book Of Daniel. Reich quotes haunting verses in which the prophet Daniel, enslaved in Babylon - the modern-day Iraq - is ordered to interpret the ominous dreams of King Nebuchadnezzar, which suggest a wave of terror to come. In the 2nd and 4th movements, which include lyrical passages written for a string section, Reich evokes the spirit of the modern-day Daniel, who was a violinist as well as a reporter. Pearl was, says Reich, "Someone who stands beautifully and grotesquely at the same time as a symbol of thousands of innocent victims...he was murdered while trying to really give a fair shake to all concerned."
“The circumstances that gave rise to Steve Reich’s Daniel Variations – the brutal killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002 – could not be more horrific. Small consolation to say that it has inspired some fine works of art. But this is a very special piece, with Reich trying to make sense of the horror by juxtaposing Pearl’s statements with biblical readings.”
11th May 2008
“These pieces are as good an example as any of the jogging, jaunty repetition Reich has made his own, and suggest that bold departures from the style are unlikely. The 22-minute Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings goes through the wonted motions and modulations with Reichian rigour, but without the gripping, if awful, power of sheer insistency that marks his 55-minute Music for 18 Musicians...The half-hour Daniel Variations, a memorial for the murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, puts tiny slivers of text (Pearl’s own words and some from the biblical book of Daniel) through the repetition mill – but to what purpose?”
“Critics often lament Reich's shift away from the strict processes of his early minimalist style but all the techniques discovered along the way are still present here: rhythmic goal-orientation, harmonic clusters rich in overtones and upper partials, and a complex but audible polyphonic weave. And all underpinned by those variations, no less. ”
“Reich's interest in variation has not been confined to music alone; he also employs linguistic variation to examine the relationship between sound and sense, and even uses language to frame wider moral, philosophical and religious concerns. This is heard in the Daniel Variations. Composed in response to the futile killing of the American reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002, and premiered in October 2006 at the highly successful 'Phases' retrospective at London's Barbican Centre, the work combines short biblical excerpts with contemporary textual commentary to create a dark and often unsettling sound world. Much of this is derived from Reich's juxtaposition of block-like structures with a set of harmonic axes which emphasise the most traditionally unstable of all intervals – the augmented fourth (or tritone). In contrast, the Variations for Vibes, Piano &Strings displays Reich's musical inventiveness at its ebullient and infectious best. Given a topnotch workout by Alan Pierson and members of the London Sinfonietta, the Variations alternately powers and glides throughout a tautly structured three-movement design – by way of a series of simultaneously unfolding canonic layers – which zigzag their way inexorably towards a quite thrilling close. Critics often lament Reich's shift away from the strict processes of his early minimalist style but all the techniques discovered along the way are still present here: rhythmic goal-orientation, harmonic clusters rich in overtones and upper partials, and a complex but audible polyphonic weave. And all underpinned by those variations, no less.”
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