Rarely have I heard so much good live music during one week. Sacrum Profanum, now in its ninth edition, is a Krakow festival dedicated to avantgarde music. This time the main focus was on American minimalism and the celebration for Steve Reich's birthday. And although the great composer will be 75 on October 3, the festival was held in September. This way it could begin on 09/11 to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attack on the NYC's WTC on its tenth anniversary.

The opening night's gig took place inside a gigantic steelplant located in Nowa Huta, the famous industrial district of Krakow. Actually, all of the festival's concerts took place in various postindustrial spaces, the other two being the Museum of Urban Engineering and the Laznia Nowa Theatre.

These three venues represented the festival's three segments called Freak, Modern Classic and Made in Poland. And the first evening, in the Electrolytic Galvanizing Plant, was a part of the "Freak" thread. Steve Reich performed with Ensemble Modern and Synergy Vocals. One of the three compositions was Daniel Variations (2006) dedicated to the memory of Daniel Pearl, the American reporter, kidnapped and brutally murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan in 2002. It was especially moving to hear it here, as Piotr Stanczak, a Polish geologist from a Krakow company was also kidnapped and beheaded in Pakistan exactly seven years later, in February 2009.

Jonny Greenwood played his own version of Electric Counterpoint originally recorded by jazz guitarist Pat Metheny in 1987. Greenwood interpretation was rather straight and simplistic which, by the way, is nothing wrong, especially in the context of minimalism, but it did not leave me thrilled. Still, the rock part of the crowd seemed satisfied. Which is a value in itself as, hopefully, some of them might start listening to something new, say, beyond Radiohead.

Steve Reich, just like Terry Riley, La Monte Young and Philip Glass, was a vital force in the creation of the so-called minimalist music. And now, in a massive presentation we could listen to many of his works written between 1967 (Piano Phase) and 2008 (2x5). During five late night concerts at the Laznia Nowa Theatre in Nowa Huta his best compositions were performed including Three Tales, Different Trains, Clapping Music, Double Sextet or Six Marimbas.

Other composers like Terry Riley, John Adams, David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon were given special concerts at the Museum of Urban Engineering. The original version of Terry Riley's In C was performed for the very first time. Top musicians were invited to play namely Ensemble Modern, Alarm Will Sound, Asko l Schonberg, Klangforum Wien and Bang on a Can All Stars (including Todd Reynold's guest appearance on electric violin). These superb groups delivered perfect renditions of all the works to the delight of the enchanted audiences. And it must be stressed that the sound quality was always impeccable and especially so at the theatre gigs. Not a minor feat, considering they're all postindustrial buildings.

To add a different flavor to the festival's main dish, a special project called Made in Poland. Milosz Sounds was introduced. In the Czeslaw Milosz Year (Milosz was a Polish Nobel Prize winning poet born in 1911) five important composers of the younger generation were asked to write a piece inspired by his work. Pawel Mykietyn and Agata Zubel have been very well known and acclaimed for years and Aleksandra Gryka, Jagoda Szmytka and Wojciech Ziemowit Zych follow closely in their footsteps getting wider recognition. They did their best albeit with varying results.

But let us go back to the Nowa Huta Steelworks. Perhaps in an attempt to give Steve Reich's wonderful music more exposure and to attract younger crowds, the first and, even more so, the last day was planned as a rock tribute to the outstanding jubilarian. Guest appearances from some of the stars of alternative pop/rock like Tom Verlaine of Television, Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, Adrian Utley from Portishead, Aphex Twin or Will Gregory (Goldfrapp) were announced. As it turned out, Tom Verlaine finally could not make it to Krakow which was a huge disappointment, as lots of people had been expecting him to come here for the first time ever.

They were supported by two Polish jazz pianists Leszek Mozdzer and Pianohooligan (real name Piotr Orzechowski). The veteran Mozdzer is one of the most important piano players in the history of Polish jazz and his latest CD Komeda has recently become a hit. Mozdzer played Piano Phase, a composition originally written for two pianists. He was the first musician to play it on two pianos at the same time. Just doing this is already an impossible task, and what's more, he also added his own improvised parts to the piece. Steve Reich was delighted.

During that last gig the composer spoke to us from above. He made comments on each piece from a large screen, giving his fans insight into his life and work. He emphasized his love of jazz and its importance for the whole minimal school. If not for jazz, there would be no minimalism. Well, these credits sound fantastic I must say. But if you go out to see John Coltrane 50 times, it's definitely not just to kill time. Steve Reich seemed happy with the whole festival. And that final concert was perhaps the only birthday party in his lifetime that gathered some 3000 guests.

Many happy returns Mr Reich (also to Krakow)! 













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