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Reich, Steve

REICH, STEVE

REICH, STEVE (1936– ), U.S. composer and performer. Reich was born in New York and began studying drumming with Roland Kohloff at the age of 14. At Cornell University (1953–57) he devoted himself mainly to philosophy but also attended lectures of William Austin in music history. After returning to New York he began his composition studies, first privately with Hall Overton (1957–58) and later at the Juilliard School with Bergsma and Persichetti (1958–61). He received his master's degree under Berio (Mills College, California).

In the middle of the 1960s the idea of "phasing" captured his imagination; he composed some pieces where identical sound elements move out of synchrony with each other, i.e., in and out of phase (It's Gonna Rain, for tape, 1965, Piano Phase, 2 pianos, 1967, etc.). In this way, Reich became one of the founders of minimalism, or repetitive music. This music demanded a new type of reception, characterized by Reich as follows: "Some critics […] thought I was intending to create some kind of 'hypnotic' or 'trance' music. […] But I actually prefer the music to be heard by somebody who's totally wide awake, hearing more than he or she usually does, rather than by someone who's just spaced-out and receiving a lot of ephemeral impressions."

In the late 1960s Reich began giving concerts in New York galleries, where other minimalists (musicians, film artists, and visual artists) were also active. At the same time he and his own ensemble began making records of his music. He studied drumming with teachers from Africa and Asia, and often included percussion in his scores (Music for 18 Musicians, 1974–76; Eight Lines, 1979). Music for 18 Musicians became a new stage in his composition technique: within a context of many constantly recycling musical figures, each of them gradually changes.

In 1976–77 Reich devoted his time to Hebrew, Torah, and cantillation studies, visited Israel, and heard singers from Eastern Sephardi communities. Following this experience, he composed Tehillim for choir and instrumental ensemble (1981). His next opus, The Desert Music (1982–84) for choir and orchestra on the lines from William Carlos Williams, refer to the possible destruction of the planet. K.R. Schwarz characterized the opening of the finale as "[…] a solitary human running across a vast desolate plain – a desert at once intimidating and exhilarating."

In his most famous piece, Different Trains, 1988, Reich combines his childhood recollections of frequent train journeys between New York and California and his divorced parents with the memory of the different trains taking Jewish children to the death camps. Reich used recordings of train sounds and spoken testimonies of his governess, a retired Pullman porter, and Holocaust survivors, to be played as short melodies by live and recorded string quartets. The New York Times hailed Different Trains as an "astonishing work of such originality that breakthrough seems the only possible description … possesses an absolutely harrowing emotional impact." The Cave, Steve Reich and Beryl Korot's theater piece (1990–93), was also highly appreciated by the critics. The title is metaphoric: The Cave is about the cave at Hebron that is by tradition the burial place of Abraham and Sarah. Exploring the biblical story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac, the 18-musician production consists of edited documentary video footage timed with live and sampled music. After The Cave, Reich and his wife, the video maker Beryl Korot, continued their collaboration in Three Tales, a full-evening music-theater piece on the topic of technology and its consequences. Noted choreographers often interpreted Reich's music, including Laura Dean, who commissioned Sextet (1984). The ballet, entitled Impact, earned Steve Reich and Laura Dean a Bessie Award in 1986. In 1994 Reich was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

bibliography:

ng2; E. Strickland, Minimalism: Origins (1993); R. Kostelanetz (ed.), Writings on Glass: Essays, Interviews, Criticism (1996, incl. writings by Glass); K.R. Schwarz, Minimalists (1996); K. Potter: Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass (2000).

[Yulia Kreinin (2nd ed.)]

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