Systems and other Minimalism in Britain

Authored by: Virginia Anderson

The Ashgate Research Companion to Minimalist and Postminimalist Music

Print publication date:  November  2013
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781409435495
eBook ISBN: 9781315613260
Adobe ISBN: 9781317042556


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In 1970, Gavin Bryars invited Steve Reich, who was in London, to play recordings of his recent compositions at a gathering that included many members of the Scratch Orchestra, the Promenade Theatre Orchestra and the Portsmouth Sinfonia. Bryars shared a large house with Evan Parker in north-west London; Christopher Hobbs temporarily sublet part of the first floor. The composers decided to entertain Reich in Hobbs’s room because it was the biggest; Bryars brought his Revox tape recorder downstairs, as it was the best. Reich played Four Organs (1970), the first time that it would have been heard in London. In return, Bryars played a recording of the William Tell overture by the Portsmouth Sinfonia, an ensemble of arts students and faculty often known as the ‘world’s worst orchestra’. Michael Nyman remembers that ‘the Anglo/American love-in was stretched to its limits’ at this moment. 1 1

Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and beyond (Cambridge, 1999 [1974]), p. xvii. Nyman writes that this happened in 1971, but Hobbs lived in Bryars’s house in Brondesbury Villas only for a few months around May 1970. Hugh Shrapnel and Bryn Harris (email to the author, 27 December 2011), who also attended, both give the year as 1970.

Reich later hired several of these composers to play on his European tour of Drumming (1970–71), but for Nyman, Reich failed to ‘get’ the Sinfonia. 2 2

Michael Nyman, email to the author, 27 December 2011.

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