January 25, 2007
Steve Reich’s non-requiem for Daniel Pearl
When Judea Pearl asked composer Steve Reich to create a piece of music that would commemorate the life of his son, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, he knew what he did not want the music to be.
"We did not want it to be a eulogy or a requiem," said Pearl, whose son was murdered while on assignment in Pakistan in 2002. "Daniel was a highly principled person. He became an icon, and this work by Reich is a tribute to a life that personified our culture, our principles and our dreams."
The result was the "Daniel Variations," which will have its West Coast premier on Jan. 28 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The piece will be performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale (LAMC) and conducted by Grant Gershon as part of a 70th birthday tribute to Reich.
To inspire the composer, Pearl gave him a book of Daniel's writings, as well as a transcript of the murder. But Reich also thought about the original Daniel, the biblical prophet who interpreted the terror-filled dreams of Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar. Reich found an extraordinary resonance between Nebuchadnezzar's description of one dream ("Images upon my bed and visions in my head frightened me") and terrorist attacks around the world.
Reich built the "Daniel Variations" composition in four alternating movements -- the first and the third are about the biblical Daniel, the second and the fourth are about Daniel Pearl. The piece alternates between horror and hope, with the gentle Daniel Pearl movements contrasting with the heavier, fearsome prophet Daniel movements.
"The opening is some of the most dissonant music I have ever written, and the third movement is some of the tensest music I have ever written," Reich said. "It's a music of great contrasts."
The Daniel Variations marks the second Daniel Pearl tribute piece that Gershon will be conducting. The first was "Mother's Lament" by Sharon Farber, which the LAMC performed on Sept. 29, 2002.
"I find a lot of resonance in the idea of being able to take a life like Daniel Pearl's, that was so full of optimism and commitment to bringing people together, and to be able to translate that and to transcend the horrible circumstances of his death. I think that is what music and the arts should do -- and that is enormously inspiring to me," Gershom said.
As for Judea Pearl, he sees these tributes as a way to assist his mission.
"I am not dealing with pain here," he said. "I am a soldier, and we have to fight the hatred that took Daniel's life. These tributes do give me the assurance that the community resonates with the ideas Daniel stood for." The "Daniel Variations" will be performed on Jan. 28, 7 p.m. at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. For more information, call (800) 787-5262 or visit lamc.org.
Click on the BIG ARROW to see a BBC piece on Reich and his Daniel Pearl tribute