Village Voice June 25 1996

Kyle Gann reviews the premiere of Johnny Reinhard's new performing version of Charles Ives' Universe Symphony at Lincoln Center, New York.
From The Village Voice June 25 1996.

Heaven Enough

by Kyle Gann

Man, did opinions diverge concerning Johnny Reinhard’s completion of Charles Ives’s Universe Symphony at Alice Tully Hall June 6!  Some aficionados found the work unworthy of Ives’s oeuvre, others thought it a transcendent new masterpiece.  I leaned toward the transcendent side.  It’s true that the first half-hour—drums, cymbals, and gongs marking off varying simultaneous tempos—was too uninflected to remind you of anything else in Ives’s work, but that was the section that came most documentably straight from Ives’s sketches.  More conceptual than musical, it was a little tedious, but soon nine flutes ushered in a 45-minute crescendo of excitement.

There were no quotations, no hymn tunes, no rollicking folk songs nor marching bands out of sync.  The remainder sounded like the least recognizable moments in Ives: the opening beats of “The Housatonic at Stockbridge,” parts of the Second Orchestral Set, cloudier passages from “Emerson” in the Concord Sonata.  The muddily orchestrated streams of meandering melodies, tonal within themselves but dissonant to the overall texture, sounded like a memory of Ives, and anything more tangible would have ill served the purported program: creation of heaven and earth.  The final minutes lapsed into dazzling beauty: the horns suddenly burst forth in a singular angular melody, the orchestra paused a few times to allow piano chords and gongs to die into nothingness, and those nine flutes covered the whole with a silvery sheen.

It didn’t detract that this was the most comically crisis-laden performance within memory.  Reinhard, uncharacteristically tuxedoed and waving like a traffic cop, kept having to cancel out performers who threatened to enter too early, and you could track the drama unfolding onstage by the puzzled looks of the two assistant conductors, Charles Zachary Bornstein and Cory Crossman.  Reinhard’s American Festival of Microtonal Music Orchestra couldn’t afford as many full rehearsals as a smooth performance would have required, yet the visual shenanigans never translated into sonic interruptions.  And at the mystical end, an almost full Alice Tully Hall rose at once for a standing ovation: a fitting tribute, not necessarily for this performance, but for Reinhard’s relentless sleuth work on Ives’s sketches and his 14 years of dedication in providing New York’s most finely tuned musical offerings.

Ives Primer 1: His Life
Ives Primer 2: His Significance
Ives Primer 3: His Universe Symphony
Ives: Short Biography
Ives Downloads and Resources

Symphonic Tradition And The Universe Symphony, by Johnny Reinhard
Of Pitch And Time: Delivering The Universe Symphony, by Johnny Reinhard
Interview (2005) with Johnny Reinhard about the Universe Symphony

Performers of the Universe Symphony
Recording the Universe Symphony: the producer's note
Recording the Universe Symphony: the sound engineer's note

Thumbnail links to selected Ives site illustrations

Premiere Previews and Reviews:
New York Times June 2 1996
(Richard Taruskin)
New York Times June 8 1996
(Alex Ross)
Village Voice April 5 1995 (Kyle Gann)
Village Voice June 4 1996
(Kyle Gann)
Village Voice June 25 1996
(Kyle Gann)

To Johnny Reinhard's home at the Stereo Society