Minimalism Changed My Life: Tones, Drones, and Arpeggios: what is it?

This is a thrilling live music show with a dynamic visual element that brings together many different aspects of what was, fundamentally, a world-changing musical movement: Minimalism.  The movement that so fired up the Beatles and influenced artists from The Who, David Bowie and Kraftwerk to Grandmaster Flash, Aphex Twin, and Beyoncé.  It’s the music that found the sweet spot between the arthouse and rock and roll.

Weaving in stories, anecdotes and filmic content, our show places the genre in its social and political context, presenting an across-the-board celebration of the last big idea in classical music.

What can audiences expect from the production?

It’s going to be a visceral show! Filmmaker John Minton is helping to bring a whole different dimension to the performance with filmic content, projected around the orchestra, partly generated live but also using loads of archive, which will help to place Minimalism in the political and sociological context that surrounded its birth. We’re talking about the 1960s, sexual liberation, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. Those were key factors that contributed to a sense of needing something new, a kind of cultural insurgency and that’s what Minimalism was. It was as left field as they come, and boy did it conquer the world!

I had this beautiful old hippie primary school music teacher… His idea of music lessons was to play – at ear-bleeding volume Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air.. that was the beginning of something for me.

We’ll be performing some of the cornerstones of Minimalist composition, music from some of the chief architects of the genre. From Terry Riley’s seminal A Rainbow in Curved Air and a live super-group version of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, to the amazing high-octane, wild cornucopia of colour, notes and delight in Steve Reich’s rarely performed Music for a Large Ensemble. We’ve also got a couple of incredible drone-based pieces by Pauline Oliveros – another great Scion of the movement, and an amazing early-era piece from Philip Glass which was, for me, the most interesting period of his work (although he won’t thank me for saying that!)

Terry Riley and Charles Hazlewood, BBC 2018

What prompted you to create Minimalism Changed My Life?

I had this beautiful old hippie primary school music teacher called Mr. Edmonds.. chain-smoking, long blonde haired etc… His idea of music lessons was to take us into the school hall, sit us on the floor and play – at ear-bleeding volume – one of two records; Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or Terry Riley’s Rainbow in Curved Air. For the whole of the school year, aged nine, I was immersed, drenched, almost drowned in this music. But in a really good way.

It was impossible for me to imagine why I couldn’t love Beethoven and also love The Grateful Dead..

So that was the beginning of something for me. Then it became crucially important down the years when I’m in Oxford and my tutors would tell me “if you don’t stop having any hunger or appetite for any music outside the Western classical canon, you will never be taken seriously as a conductor”. This was like splitting my soul in two, it was impossible for me to imagine why I couldn’t love Beethoven and also love The Grateful Dead. Then minimalism struck me straight across the head, and I realised at last; here is a licence, here is a music that joins these two seemingly different worlds together. This was an arthouse music with the energy of rock and roll. In a way, it completed me.

That’s the fundamental thing and that’s the reason why I made my Tones, Drones, and Arpeggios films with the BBC last year and it just seemed obvious to us at the Paraorchestra we needed to take this show and make it into a live experience.

Charles, left, sits on a sofa facing hilip Glass on the right, in conversation.

Charles Hazlewood and Steve Reich, BBC 2018

Who will enjoy it?

This is a gig that genuinely has the broadest possible potential constituency. This is the gig that will delight anyone who loved watching The Exorcist (which famously featured Tubular Bells) – or anyone who enjoys that seminal album by Mike Oldfield, anyone who delights in pulse music or psychedelia, anyone who enjoys hearing virtuoso classical musicians playing high wire, high-velocity work. Or anyone who just enjoys a live music spectacle. This is a gig that draws together so many different strands from right across the musical spectrum, from hardcore listening experiences by Philip Glass, to the psychedelia and trippiness of Rainbow in Curved Air, the dark, highly perfumed and sensual drone-world of Pauline Oliveros, through to the sheer lust-for-life, high-octane pure minimalism of Steve Reich. There really is something for pretty much everybody.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre: Saturday 28th September, 7.30pm

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester: Wednesday 2nd October, 7.30pm