A portion of the album artwork for the 2022 recording of Reich/Richter

Over the course of his long career, Steve Reich has probably had almost as many significant premieres in museums as he has in concert halls. And while Saturday’s Green Umbrella concert featuring Reich’s 2019 score for German artist Gerhard Richter’s Moving Picture (946-3) was performed at Walt Disney Concert Hall, its fusion of abstract film and music would have been equally at home across the street at The Broad museum.

The colorfully cinematic portion of this all-Reich program was proceeded by the exuberant energy of Double Sextet (from 2007) and a pandemic-influenced elegy, Traveler’s Prayer (from 2020). The LA Phil New Music Group and a quartet of vocalists were conducted by Reich specialist Brad Lubman.

It was a concert that moved progressively from outward and energetic to reflectively introspective and finally meditative with the cinematic, abstract 40-minute Reich/Richter.

Brad Lubman
Brad Lubman | Credit: Peter Serling (courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association)

You can feel the momentum of Reich’s 1988 Different Trains in Double Sextet as two mirror-image six-member ensembles (paired flutes, clarinets, cellos, vibraphones, and pianos) volley themes and rhythmic patterns back and forth with the driving force of a locomotive. Led with exacting detail by Lubman, it was a performance that combined Reich’s signature patterning with an abundance of expansive warmth and energy, with the dual pianos providing the foundation.

Composed during the isolating period of the pandemic, Traveler’s Passage is a very different work that reflects Reich’s immersion in Hebrew scripture and chanted material from the Psalms, which he incorporates with the verses “Behold, I send a messenger,” “To Your lifeline I cling,” and “The Eternal will guard your departure.” The verses, which were cited in the program, were sung by the four vocalists without the aid of projected titles. Performed without pause, their vocal lines melded into the overall musical fabric as tones without meaning.

In 2016, as Reich recounts, he met with the painter Gerhard Richter at a Marian Goodman Gallery in New York. Richter had produced a 40-minute computer-generated film (with Corinna Belz) that morphed one of Richter’s color-line paintings into pattern transmutations, moving from totally abstract to vaguely figurative and back again. He showed it to Reich and asked if he would be interested in setting the film to music. The resulting co-commission, Reich/Richter, was premiered in 2019 as a scored film at The Shed in New York, where it ran for more than 100 performances. Saturday was the Los Angeles premiere.

In Richter’s slowly modulating patterns, Reich writes, “what really got me involved was the very beginning of the film with the pulsating, color shifting, glowing stripes. Instead of dividing, mirroring, and repeating, the film was multiplying and repeating. In computer terms, the initial stripes were made with two pixels. Then they gradually grew to four, eight, 16, 32, and so on. ... When the film begins with the two-pixel stripes, the music begins with a two-16th note oscillating pattern. When the film goes to four pixels, the music moves onto a four-16th note pattern.”

The slowly evolving nature of the film and Reich’s constantly repeating musical formula created an experience that was somewhere between a musical-visual mandala and decoratively morphing wallpaper. Too much abstraction leads either to meditation or boredom.