Born: October 3, 1936 Primary Instrument: Composer/conductor/leader
From his early taped-speech pieces It’s Gonna Rain (1965) and Come Out (1966) to his and video artist Beryl Korot’s digital video opera Three Tales (2002), Steve Reich’s path has embraced not only aspects of Western Classical music, but the structures, harmonies, and rhythms of non-Western and American vernacular music, particularly jazz.
Born in New York and raised there and in California, Mr. Reich graduated with honors in philosophy from Cornell University in 1957. For the next two years, he studied composition with Hall Overton, and from 1958 to 1961 he studied at The Juilliard School of Music with William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti. Mr. Reich received his MA in Music from Mills College in 1963, where he worked with Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud.
During the summer of 1970, with the help of a grant from the Institute for International Education, Mr. Reich studied drumming at the Institute for African Studies at the University of Ghana in Accra. In 1973 and 1974, he studied Balinese gamelan semar pegulingan and gamelan gambang at the American Society for Eastern Arts in Seattle and Berkeley, California. From 1976 to 1977, he studied the traditional forms of cantillation (chanting) of the Hebrew Scriptures in New York and Jerusalem.
In 1966, Mr. Reich founded his own ensemble of three musicians, which rapidly grew to 18 members or more. Since 1971, Steve Reich and Musicians have frequently toured the world and have the distinction of performing to sold-out houses at venues as diverse as Carnegie Hall and the Bottom Line cabaret.
Mr. Reich’s 1988 piece Different Trains marked a new compositional method, rooted in It’s Gonna Rain and Come Out, in which speech recordings generate the musical material for musical instruments. In 1990, Mr. Reich received a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Composition for Different Trains as recorded by the Kronos Quartet on the Nonesuch label.
In June 1997, in celebration of Mr. Reich’s 60th birthday, Nonesuch released a 10-CD retrospective box set of Mr. Reich’s compositions, featuring several newly recorded and remastered works. He won a second Grammy Award in 1999 for his piece Music for 18 Musicians, also on Nonesuch. In July 1999, a major retrospective of Mr. Reich’s work was presented by the Lincoln Center Festival. Earlier, in 1988, the South Bank Centre in London mounted a similar series of retrospective concerts.
In 2000, he was awarded the Schuman Prize from Columbia University, the Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College, the Regent’s Lectureship at the University of California at Berkeley, and an honorary doctorate from the California Institute of the Arts; he was also named Composer of the Year by Musical America.
The Cave Steve Reich and Beryl Korot’s music-theater video piece exploring the Biblical story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac was hailed by Time Magazine as a fascinating glimpse of what opera might be like in the 21st century.
Three Tales, a three-part digital documentary video opera, is a second collaborative work by Steve Reich and Beryl Korot about three well-known events from the 20th century, reflecting on the growth and implications of technology during that time: Hindenburg, on the crash of the German zeppelin in New Jersey in 1937; Bikini, on the Atom bomb tests at Bikini atoll in the years 1946- 54; and Dolly, after the sheep cloned in 1997, on the issues of genetic engineering and robotics.
Over the years, Steve Reich has received commissions from the Barbican Centre in London; the Holland Festival; San Francisco Symphony; the Rothko Chapel; Vienna Festival; Hebbel Theater, Berlin; the Brooklyn Academy of Music (for guitarist Pat Metheny); Spoleto Festival USA; West German Radio, Cologne; Settembre Musica, Torino; the Fromm Music Foundation (for clarinetist Richard Stoltzman); the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra; Betty Freeman (for the Kronos Quartet); and the Festival d’Automne, Paris (for the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution).
Steve Reich’s music has been performed by major orchestras and ensembles around the world, and several noted choreographers have created dances to his music. In 1994, Steve Reich was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and, in 1995, to the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts; in 1999, he was made Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.