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BBC – Tones, Drones and Arpeggios: The Magic of Minimalism (2018)

BBC Tones Drones and Arpeggios

Musician Charles Hazlewood explores the four great American minimalist composers who rebooted classical music in the 20th century.

Chapter 1: California
Charles Hazlewood tracks down the pioneers of minimalism, which began on America’s west coast in the 1950s. Describing them as ‘prophets without honour’, Charles explores La Monte Young’s groundbreaking experiments with musical form that included notes held for exceptionally long periods of time, and drones inspired by Eastern classical music and Hindustani singer Pandit Pran Nath.

He drives out into the Californian countryside to the ranch of Terry Riley and discusses the musician’s revolutionary experiments with tape recording looping and phasing, along with early synthesizer sound. The episode includes excerpts from key early minimalist pieces, including Riley’s now famous In C, performed by Charles Hazlewood’s All Stars Collective and detailed workshopping by Hazlewood where pieces are deconstructed musically.

The key attributes of minimalism, its reliance on repetition, its mesmerizing transcendent qualities and innovative use of technology are also discussed with broadcaster and writer Tom Service; Gillian Moore, Director of Music at the Southbank Centre; composers Morton Subotnick, Max Richter and Bryce Dessner, and musicians Jarvis Cocker and Adrian Utley.

Chapter 2: New York
Charles Hazlewood meets the genre’s superstars Philip Glass and Steve Reich.

Across the 1960s these New Yorkers added new orchestral dimensions to compositions based on repetition, transcendence and new technology, and broke into the mainstream in the following decade. Charles explores how breakthrough techniques Reich first explored on tape were transposed for orchestral performance. Glass’s experiments with repetitive structures, along with his innovative work in opera – Einstein on the Beach – revealed new possibilities for classical music.

The episode includes excerpts from minimalist pieces, including Reich’s Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards performed by the Army of Generals orchestra. Charles Hazlewood’s All Stars Collective performs part of Mike Oldfield’s minimalist-inspired Tubular Bells.

The key attributes of minimalism, its reliance on repetition, its mesmerizing transcendent qualities and innovative use of technology are also discussed with broadcaster and writer Tom Service; director of music at the Southbank Centre, Gillian Moore; composers Laurie Spiegel, Nico Muhly, Julia Wolfe, Max Richter and Bryce Dessner; and musicians Jarvis Cocker and Adrian Utley.

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