Reich, Steve 1936-

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REICH, Steve 1936-

PERSONAL: Born October 3, 1936, in New York, NY; son of Leonard Reich (an attorney) and June (Sillman) Carroll (a singer and lyricist); married second wife Beryl Korot (an artist), 1976; children: two sons. Education: Cornell University, B.A. (with honors), 1957; graduate study, Juilliard School of Music, 1958-61; Mills College, M.A., 1963; additional graduate study, University of Ghana, 1970, and American Society for Eastern Arts, summers, 1973-74. Religion: Jewish.

ADDRESSES: Home—16 Warren St., New York, NY 10007. Office—Boosey & Hawkes, Inc., East 21st St. New York, NY 10010-6212. Agent—Lynn Garon Management, 1199 Park Ave., New York, NY 10028.

CAREER: Composer and performer in San Francisco, CA, 1963-65; composer and performer in his own music ensemble in New York, NY, 1965—. Has performed at Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, and Museum of Modern Art. Collaborated on music and dance concerts throughout Europe and at New York University, 1972-73.

AWARDS, HONORS: National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1974; New York State Council on the Arts grant, 1974; Rockefeller Foundation grants, 1975, 1979, and 1981; Guggenheim fellow, 1978; Koussevitzky International Recording Award, 1981; Grammy Awards, 1989, for best contemporary composition for Different Trains, and 1998, for Music for 18 Musicians; William Schuman Award, 2000, from Columbia University's School of the Arts; Village Voice called Reich "America's greatest living composer"; Pulitzer Prize for music nomination, 2003, for Three Tales.


Writings about Music (essays), New York University Press, 1974, enlarged French translation published as Ecrits et entretiens sur la musique, Bourgois, 1981.

Eight Lines (octet; sound recording), Boosey & Hawkes, 1980.

Music for a Large Ensemble (sound recording), Warner Brothers, 1980.

Pendulum Music (sound recording), Universal Edition, 1980.

Tehillim (sound recording), Warner Brothers, 1982.

Sextet for Percussion and Keyboards, 1984 (sound recording), Boosey & Hawkes, 1984.

The Desert Music (sound recording), Nonesuch, 1985.

New York Counterpoint (sound recording), Hendon Music, 1985.

Steve Reich, Composer (sound recording), National Public Radio, 1986.

Three Movements for Orchestra (sound recording), Boosey & Hawkes, 1986.

Different Trains; and, Electric Counterpoint (sound recording), Elektra/Asylum/Nonesuch Records, 1989.

New York Counterpoint: For Clarinet and Tape or Clarinet Ensemble (sound recording), Boosey & Hawkes, 1986.

The Four Sections Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ (sound recording), Elektra Nonesuch, 1990.

Six Pianos (sound recording), Boosey & Hawkes, 1992.

The Cave (sound recording), Boosey & Hawkes, 1993.

(With Michael Tenzer) Gamelan Gong Kebyar: The Art of Twentieth-Century Balinese Music, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2000.

Writings on Music, 1965-2000, edited by Paul Hillier, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Also author of various recorded compositions, including "Come Out," Odyssey, 1967; "It's Gonna Rain" and "Violin Phase," Columbia Records, 1969; "Four Organs," Angel Records, 1973; "Drumming," "Six Pianos," and "Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ," Deutsche Grammophon, 1974; "Music for Eighteen Musicians," ECM Records, 1978; "Octet," "Music for a Large Ensemble," and "Violin Phase," ECM Records, 1980; and "Tehillim," ECM Records, 1982. Author of other compositions, including "Phase Patterns," "Clapping Music," "Music for Pieces of Wood," and "Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards." Composer of the video opera Three Tales, 2002, with video artist Beryl Korot.

SIDELIGHTS: Described by Newsweek's Annalyn Swan as one of the leading composers of "stripped-down, hypnotically repetitive, so-called 'minimal' music," Steve Reich is committed to making an original and personally satisfying statement as he blends new musical forms with old. Explained Reich: "I didn't become a composer so that someone would pat me on the back and say, 'That's a pretty good twelve-tone piece, almost as good as third-rate Berio or Stockhausen,' which I think can be said of much serial music in America. Instead, I opted to do what came naturally. Basically I was after music with a strong, clear pulse, a clear tonal center, and that was clearly mine....The listener I'm most concerned with is myself. I feel obliged to do something that's going to engage me."

Reich's early, wide-ranging musical interests guided his development of what has become known as "phase" music, a style that experiments electronically with tape loops and gradual shifting of sounds. Although phase music is performed with Western instruments and focuses on western tonality, it arose from Reich's studies of African rhythms in the early 1960s. He formed the ensemble Steve Reich and Musicians to perform the music, a necessity in the conservative classical community of the 1960s when other musicians were wary of such untested experimentation. The ensemble attracted controversy from their very first performance at Carnegie Hall, but by the mid-1970s they had cultivated a devoted following. By the early 1970s, however, Reich was through experimenting with phase music, and set about creating yet another new genre—pulse music—which was launched with the premiere of Music for 18 Musicians in 1976. The piece concentrated on a cycle of eleven chords and allowed the musicians the latitude to change chords at will. Many critics cite the work as one of the most important compositions of the 1970s. In the late 1980s, Reich experimented with human speech in his works, most notably with Different Trains, in which the taped voices of Holocaust survivors were incorporated electronically with live musicians.

Reich typically borrows elements from a wide variety of styles and composers. Bach and Stravinsky, for example, are among his more traditional sources of inspiration. As a teenager, however, he developed an interest in jazz, and later, in his twenties, he was intrigued by Terry Riley's innovative and repetitively patterned composition "In C." Reich's exposure to new forms of music continued throughout the 1970s. Early in the decade, he journeyed to Ghana to study with a master drummer of the Ewe tribe at the Institute of African Studies; in subsequent years, he received instruction in the cantillation (chanting) of Hebrew scripture and in the specialized tuned percussion music known as Balinese Gamelan Semar Pegulingan.

These diverse kinds of music have all made their mark on Reich's work, often to such an extent that, as Swan pointed out, "on first hearing, [his] music can seem maddeningly mindless and static to ears steeped in the classical and romantic traditions....The initial effect is of a floating, somewhat amorphous cloud of sound. Gradually, however, you begin to distinguish the subtly varied patterns within the whole.... Like Eastern music, Reich's compositions use the most sophisticated of means to achieve the simplest of surfaces. They are at once exhilarating, because of the bright intensity of his timbres and musical colors, and tranquil, because of their seeming suspension in time."

After praising Reich's "lively percussion patterns," "gentle sustained chords," and "light, quick notes," Gregory Sandow declared in a Village Voice article that "surely Steve Reich is one of the best composers around. I can't agree with most of the critical remarks about him. I don't think his way of writing turns musicians into robots fit only to execute mechanical repeating patterns; not everyone might want to play his music, but the people who do play it sound inspired and at times even exalted. I don't worry that his pieces are too much like their African and Balinese influences or else not rhythmically complicated enough to be worthy of them; Reich is not writing African or Balinese music. To my ear—though he uses sounds taken from music he likes, just as any composer would, and for that matter is original in countless ways of his own—he is a western composer, working squarely in the tradition of western classical music."

"Reich's work has been called 'minimal music,'" observed the New Yorker's Andrew Porter. "It is a label that can fairly be attached to some of his earlier compositions, . . . which are based on the rigorous working out of a single idea. It does not apply to his increasingly thoughtful and elaborately eloquent later pieces. The reflection that Beethoven and Reich seem to have worked at some of the same 'problems' can calm the uneasiness voiced [by those who feel the composer relies too heavily on simple harmonies and a steady beat]. His music has a joyful, very attractive surface; it may be that some of his admirers do not get beyond it....But there is substance beneath." Concluded Swan: "In the 1960s he was all but unheard of outside Manhattan's Soho district. In the '70s he was often dismissed as little more than a cult figure. But in the '80s Steve Reich . . . is emerging as one of the central influences in experimental music."

Reich has published two collections of his essays on music, including Writings on Music, 1965-2000, which presents sixty-four short works ranging from his classic 1968 essay "Music as a Gradual Process" to one-paragraph reminiscences. In "Music As a Gradual Process," which became one of the seminal essays on minimalist music, Reich compares the idea of gradual—or phase—music to "pulling back a swing, releasing it and observing it gradually come to rest." Other essays in the collection profile some of his favorite composers, past and present, including John Cage and Kurt Weill, his changing influences from the 1960s through the end of the century, and even several interviews and photographs from his private collection. Reich also writes about both Balinese Gamelan and Hebrew cantillation, two forms of music on which he has based some of his compositions. Even though Reich's essays are aimed at readers knowledgeable about music, "most of the writing comes across as extemporaneous rather than studied," said David Valencia in Library Journal.

Several orchestras in the United States and abroad have performed Reich's compositions, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, the South German Radio Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic. He has also collaborated with his wife, Beryl Korot, in creating several video operas, including Three Tales and The Cave. The Cave incorporates film footage of Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans along with chants of verses from the Bible and the Koran. K. Robert Schwartz of Opera News called the composition "a unique hybrid—not quite docu-drama, not quite opera, but owing something to them all." In Three Tales, Reich incorporates visions of the Hindenburg disaster, Dolly the cloned sheep, and the nuclear bomb tests on the Bikini Atoll in the 1950s. The multimedia opera has been staged in several major cities, including New York, London, Berlin, and Vienna, and audiences and critics alike have reacted with enthusiasm. In fact, in 2003, Reich was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in music for Three Tales. Alex Ross of the New Yorker called Three Tales "a major work, a sneaky sort of tragic masterpiece, whose sounds and images haunt the mind for days." Ross concluded that "Reich seems to be mourning a catastrophe that has not yet taken place. It is as if a superior, sensitive robot mind were looking to the time when the human race begins to be obliterated by machines." In examining both the opera's visual and musical elements, which Ross claimed work on a "subliminal" level, the critic pronounced that "Reich is the most original musical thinker of our time."



Contemporary Musicians, Volume 8, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.


Artforum, May, 1972.

Chicago Tribune, March 4, 1979.

Christian Science Monitor, October 23, 1980, D. Sterritt, "Composer Steve Reich: Tradition Reseen."

Musical America, June, 1980.

Musical Times, March, 1971.

Newsweek, March 29, 1982.

New York, May 25, 1970.

New Yorker, November 6, 1978; January 6, 2003, Alex Ross, "Opera As History," p. 86-87.

New York Times, October 24, 1971; March 14, 1982.

New York Times Biographical Service, June, 1986, Tim Page, "Steve Reich, a Former Young Turk, Approaches 50," p. 724-725.

Opera News, October, 1993, K. Robert Schwarz, review of The Cave.

Village Voice, March 10, 1980.

Washington Post, February 24, 1972.


"Steve Reich: A New Musical Language," Great Performances, PBS Television, 1987.*