Group 180, Group 180

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 08.06.13 in Reviews

Group 180 was not just Hungary’s foremost contemporary music ensemble; for many years, until their breakup in 1990, they were one of Eastern Europe’s lifelines to the sounds of contemporary Western European and American music. Taking advantage of a relatively porous Iron Curtain in Hungary in the late ’70s and ’80s, Group 180 introduced the music of Philip Glass and Steve Reich to new audiences, and also championed emerging Hungarian composers who were likewise creating music that incorporated repetition, electronics, and world music influences. This collection is an excellent example of Group 180′s work. Tibor Szemszo and Laszlo Melis are both represented here, and both would go on to become leading figures in the country’s new music scene. Szemszo’s opener, “Water Wonder,” begins with a stuttering, fragmented series of motifs that gradually coalesce into a pulsating whole. Melis’s “Etude For Three Mirrors” wastes no time and dives right into the sound world of Steve Reich’s “Octet” and “Music for 18 Musicians” — a glittering, percussive surface and a steadily moving harmonic progression pushing everything forward.

An excellent sample of the influential Hungarian group’s work

Reich himself is represented by his early (and genuinely Minimalist) “Music for Pieces of Wood,” but the major American work here is Frederic Rzewski’s “Coming Together,” his best-known composition and one which wears its sociopolitical concerns right where everyone can see (hear?) them. The spoken text was written by a prisoner who would shortly be killed in the infamous Attica prison uprising in 1971. Propulsive, angular, relentless and questioning, “Coming Together” demands — and receives — a committed performance. The work is often paired with Rzewski’s “Attica,” to which it is both thematically and musically related. Group 180 offers that piece here; it serves as a more melodic, poignant conclusion to a record that has been unavailable in the West for many years and has now made a welcome return.