The Premiere of “In C” November 4 and 6, 1964

(Thanks for your patience while I emphasized the “My” in “My Year ‘In C'”. I am ready to refocus on the piece itself now, but will always maintain the perogative to express what is happening in my life as this year progresses.)

Two important synchronicities occurred in early 1964 that opened the door for the premiere of “In C”. First, Terry Riley returned to San Francisco from Europe where he had been living and working for several years. Second, the San Francisco Tape and Music Center decided to devote its 1964-65 season to music by local composers. (The story of the SFTMC will be the subject of a later post.) Morton Subotnik, one of the mainstays of the Center, said of this time:

…we decided that in the 64-65 season it would be time for all the local composers to do a concert of their own music. So I did a concert, Pauline (Oliveros) did a concert, Ramon (Sender) did a concert, and I knew that Terry was coming back, so I wrote to him or called him, I can’t remember, and said, “Will you be back by November?” He said, “I’ll be back in time for November” and I said, “Why don’t we do a concert of your music and you write a piece that we can all play?”

Riley returned to SF in February of 1964, recieved” “In C” in March and this became the piece that everyone would play. There were runthroughs and tryouts at various venues, including several house concerts, throughout the spring and summer of 1964. The ultimate players for the November premiere included Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros, Morton Subotnik, Ramon Sender, Jon Gibson and others, 13 musicians in all. An additional performer was Tony Martin, who designed and performed a collage of movement and color during the piece. As Robert Carl points out in Terry Riley’s In C, the inclusion of Tony Martin’s visual component made the premiere of “In C” a multimedia event.

The final instrumentation for “In C” was two trumpets, sopranino recorder, clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophones, accordion, two pianos (with two players each) and Wurlitzer Chamberlin organ. Ramon Sender played the Chamberlin which was housed in the upstairs studio at the Center. As it turns out, the Chamberlin is a type of analog sampler that could play prerecorded loops. Again from Robert Carl: “Reich remembers a ‘kind of roundness’ in the overall sonority, and it seems likely that the background wash of sound from the organ may have been responsible for much of that effect. It is thus important to realize that In C from its earliest incarnation had an electroacoustic component, and so was a pioneering instance of live electronic performance integrated into an ensemble of acoustic instruments.” I was very excited to read this as this is the vision I have for this 2014 celebratory version as well. I like synchronicities like that.

The official premiere happened on November 4, 1964 with a two part program. The first half included Music for The Gift, three short electronic works and a solo piano piece. The second half of the program was devoted to a 45 to 60 minute rendition of “In C.” Reich remembers that the players worked together very well:

There’s alot of listening to other people, alot of laying out when it made sense, and alot of trying to play the same pattern as someone else but to sound interesting in a canon way, and to be aware of where people were and how far ahead you were. I think it was very good ensemble, good listening ensemble.

One signifigant feature of this performance, as recollected by Pauline Oliveros, is the tempo. The first performance of “In C” moved along at around 138 pulses per minute about half as fast as the initial 1967 recording. I have found playing this piece at slower tempos creates a spaciousness that allows more changes in dynamics. Slower tempos allow and encourage the kind of deep listening Reich describes. Faster tempos result in a frenetic feeling that never lets up, especially with that pulse pounding throughout.

The audience for the premier numbered about 100 and Subotnik remembers:

The audience response was wonderful. There was a buzz…It was a kind of warm, vibrant, happy…it was like something had happened, maybe not historical, but something had happened that night that was really special. It was different than other concerts.

But it was the second performance, two nights later, that garnered the now famous review by Alfred Frankenstein with the title “Music Like None Other On Earth.” Next post I will discuss the importance of this review not only for “In C” but for minimalist/avant garde music in general.

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