Trust Steve Reich, unique among practitioners in the ranks of musical minimalism, to find and attach a human face to an art that others have been content to paint with faceless anonymity. Recently arrived at the 70-year mark — along with fellow minimalist statesman Philip Glass — Reich has lent recent efforts to chug along musical portrayals of train-riding in the U.S. and abroad and Dolly, the famous cloned sheep. “Daniel Variations,” his recent 30-minute work for chorus and instrumental ensemble, given its West Coast Sunday premiere at Walt Disney Concert Hall, is his tribute to the memory of slain American journalist Daniel Pearl.
The earmarks are unmistakably Reich, and the near-capacity believers’ crowd made it clear they wouldn’t have it any other way. The music, the level of performance by Grant Gershon’s L.A. Master Chorale and an instrumental ensemble including local piano stalwarts Gloria Cheng and Vicki Ray, and a presentation that included a brief appearance by Pearl’s father, Judea, all insured an evening of high intensity. There were no letdowns.
Like his previous “You Are (Variations)” for approximately the same ensemble (included on this program), “Daniel” draws its strength from a series of short, appropriate texts — in this instance, lines by Pearl himself, including one, “My name is Daniel Pearl,” which he spoke into his captors’ videotape. These lines repeat, bounce and tear at the listener; the small orchestra screams out an underlining; a thud on the bass drum adds emphasis.
Lest anyone miss the evening’s impact, four brief Renaissance choruses were included, as harmonically heartbreaking as Josquin Desprez and William Byrd may be trusted to provide.