Arts & Culture

Fans snapping up tickets to see Olympia performance of Reich’s ‘Music for 18 Musicians’

Percussionists from ArxDuo and Sandbox Percussion will be among the musicians performing ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ at SPSCC’s Minnaert Center for the Arts.
Percussionists from ArxDuo and Sandbox Percussion will be among the musicians performing ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ at SPSCC’s Minnaert Center for the Arts. Courtesy of Emerald City Music

South Sound, it seems, is falling in love with chamber music.

Emerald City Music’s next chamber concert, Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians,” is more than a month away, yet tickets are nearly two-thirds gone.

“ ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ is one of the most viral shows we’ve ever hosted,” Emerald City executive director Andrew Goldstein told The Olympian. “Our Seattle show on March 1 sold out in early December, … and our Olympia show is already packed.”

He’s hoping it will be Emerald City’s first sellout of the 495-seat Minnaert Center for the Arts at South Puget Sound Community College.

In Seattle, a second March 1 performance was added — at 10:30 p.m. — and it is already half full, Goldstein said.

Reich’s 1976 minimalist masterpiece is undeniably beloved. People buying tickets for the March 1 and 2 concerts have been telling glowing stories, Goldstein said.

“Some have traveled by train, plane, and automobile to hear it live in a distant place,” he said. “Others listen to it really regularly. One audience member … starts every work week by listening to this piece. Others who Googled it when they heard about our performance have since adopted similar habits.”

The late David Bowie called it “astonishing,” including it on a 2003 list of his 25 favorite pieces of music.

“While most music assumes the task of finding home — that note or chord that ties things up and makes the whole journey worthwhile — ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ finds home at the start and never leaves,” A. Noah Harrison wrote in a Pop Matters review of a 2015 recording of the piece by Ensemble Signal. “Every subsequent movement comes as a resolution you never knew was needed. Any purer, and you’d be listening to an infinitely sustained, spectrum-spanning major chord played by a million hand-holding citizens of the world.”

The 70-minute work requires musicians — singers, percussionists, string and wind players, and pianists — to listen closely to one another as the sounds of various instruments rise and fall. Among the players are Emerald City music artistic director and violinist Kristin Lee, percussionists from ArxDuo and Sandbox Percussion, and soprano Mellissa Hughes, who’s performed the piece 15 times, including on the lauded 2015 Ensemble Signal recording.

Mellissa Hughes.jpg
Soprano Mellissa Hughes has performed the Reich piece 15 times, including on the lauded 2015 Ensemble Signal recording.

Hearing “18 Musicians” live is an even richer experience for both musicians and the audience, Hughes told The Olympian. “The best part of it is having the audience there, seeing them bliss out a few feet away from you,” she said. “It’s a really beautiful thing to experience.”

But it’s not just this single piece that’s leading music lovers to follow the yellow brick road to the chamber series, now in its third season.

Emerald City’s last Olympia concert, a Dec. 1 performance by the Seattle-based Daedalus Quartet, sold out the 150-seat Black Box at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

“We heard from so many fans and music lovers that they were disappointed that they couldn’t hear this show,” Goldstein said, “so we took a risk and had our first-ever repeat performance in Olympia.”

The added performance, a matinee, was four-fifths full.

Daedalus wasn’t the first sold-out show here, though. In May, Emerald City’s “Metamorphosis,” featuring Beethoven and Strauss, filled the 200-seat Evergreen State College Recital Hall.

‘Music for 18 Musicians’

  • What: Emerald City Music presents Steve Reich’s minimalist masterwork, a 70-minute soundscape performed, in this case, by 19 musicians, including eight percussionists.

  • When: 7:30 p.m. March 2

  • Where: Minnaert Center for the Arts at South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Road SW, Olympia

  • Tickets: $28 and $43, $10 for students, $23 for seniors

  • More information: 360-753-8586, emeraldcitymusic.org

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