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Terry Riley's "The Cusp of Magic"

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • March 9, 2008


cusp_magic.jpgYou don't  need to eat peyote buttons to appreciate "The Cusp of Magic" -- though it probably wouldn't hurt. The opening and closing movements of this fascinating work by California composer Terry Riley are based on Native American peyote rituals, and the music in between -- at turns luminous, frightening and unbearably lovely -- shimmers with the elusive delicacy of a dream. Performed by the Kronos Quartet (which commissioned the work), "Cusp" takes its title from the summer solstice, and evokes those transitional moments in life when the sharp edges of reality become blurred, and anything seems possible.

Riley has grown in recent years from a minimalist to a little-of-everything-ist, and in "Cusp" he incorporates singing, a synthesizer, children's toys, a drum and the traditional Chinese "pipa" lute (played here by Wu Man) to bend and blend musical genres with protean ease. The effect is, in a word, magical: You have the sense of being swept into a surging ocean of memory, where lullabies float up over mysterious drones, nervous waltzes twist suddenly into quirky little marches, and nothing is ever quite what it seems. But the music never descends into runaway eclecticism: Riley's touch remains both sure and deft throughout, and the effect is powerful.

Posted on Tuesday, March 11, 2008 at 01:59PM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

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