This piece is scored for four vibraphones, two pianos and three string quartets. The silver sound of vibraphones and strings together that I first encountered in The Four Sections (1987) suggested itsdelf as the main overall sound of this piece.
Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings (2005) is a more traditional set of variations than You Are (Variations) (2004) which preceded it. There is a basic harmonic ground plan of four major dominant chords with their roots a minor third apart built on D, F, Ab and B. In the first movement this cycle is followed through twice rather strictly and then the two following cycles are freer in nature. The pianos, which supply unpredictable rhythmic bass accents throughout the piece, play mostly with roots built on the second, fourth, sixth and fifth degree of the scale. As a result, these irregular accents produce an upbeat, positive harmonic feeling throughout.
The overall form of the piece is quite traditional, three movements: fast, slow, fast. The slow movement starts in the middle of the harmonic cycle on Ab and then completes that cycle, begins the next and only gets to the Ab section when it changes to the final fast movement. During the slow movement, melodic material from the first movement is sometimes picked up and varied.
The last movement begins in the middle of the harmonic cycle on Ab, moves to B and finally back to D for the last variation The movements therefore get shorter with the first by far the longest, the slow movement shorter and the final movement the shortest.
Throughout the piece there is a return of my old technique of substituting sounds for silence thereby filling up rests in the melodic material - as well as adding sustained harmonic voices as each variation progresses.Variations therefore start out in their simplest and barest form and gradually accumulate more melodic and harmonic material as they move along. This piece is the most modular I have done in sometime combining both older and newer elements of my music.
Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings was commissioned by the London Sinfonietta and is about 25 minutes in duration.
"The instrumental writing in the variations is as beautifully crafted as ever, built upon a rotating sequence of four chords and creating a fast-slow-fast scheme, with the movements getting progressively shorter."
"Three string quartets spar with four vibraphones, clashing and aligning in turn. Underneath the subtly changing textures the dark ruminations of two pianos provide a moody balance to some of Reich's most buoyant harmonies."