Artist in Focus: Steve Reich

9 February 2024

Steve Reich was our #RAArtistInFocus for the week of February 5 2024 whilst his music was being celebrated in France and the UK.

Described by The New Yorker as “the most original musical thinker of our time” his music has embraced not only aspects of Western Classical music, but the structures, harmonies, and rhythms of non-Western and American vernacular music. From early tape works, through his development of phasing, to work with samplers and video his music has had an enduring influence on musicians in numerous different genres.The Guardian said: “There’s just a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history and Steve Reich is one of them.” His works are published by Boosey and Hawkes and released on Nonesuch Records.

On Tuesday 6 February, Ensemble Intercontemporain gave the European premiere of #RAartistinfocus Steve Reich’s new work Jacob’s Ladder. This formed the opening of the Festival Présence 2024 which was dedicated to Steve’s music and provides a major retrospective of his works over 11 concerts. Jacob’s Ladder had its world premiere in New York, and has further performances in Toronto, Stockholm, London, Porto and Istanbul.

Watch Steve talk about Jacob’s Ladder here.

More information on Festival Présences can be found here

Signature works of Steve Reich include Music for 18 Musicians and Drumming, both of which have been recorded by several ensembles and receive numerous performances worldwide each year.

In Paris, Drumming was performed by the Colin Currie Group who also released a recording in 2018

The first recording of Music for 18 Musicians on ECM was made in 1978 by Steve's own group and was deeply influential on artists in other genres. David Bowie included it in his list of favourite albums in Vanity Fair in 2003:

“Saw this performed live in downtown New York in the late 70s. All white shirts and black trousers. Having just finished a tour in white shirt and black trousers, I immediately recognized Reich’s huge talent and great taste. The music (and the gymnastics involved in executing Reich’s tag-team approach to shift work) floored me. Astonishing.” David Bowie on Music for 18 Musicians

Steve Reich’s collaborations include two documentary video operas with the artist Beryl Korot. Expanding on the techniques for using recorded voice he began in string quartet Different Trains, these two works – The Cave and Three Tales – pushed at the boundaries of what could be achieved in this medium.

More recently his collaboration with visual artist Gerhard Richter led to Reich/Richter which opened The Shed in New York and has since been performed more than 100 times.

Many choreographers have been inspired to set dance to his works notably including Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Jirí Kylián, Jerome Robbins, Justin Peck, Wayne McGregor, Benjamin Millepied, and Christopher Wheeldon. Watch a trailer for Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's Rain here.

Recent works by #RAartistinfocus Steve Reich include Traveler’s Prayer which showed a surprising departure from his usual use of pulse. Instead, the melodic line floats freely in midair “as wisely beautiful and spare as anything in Beethoven’s late quartets … powerfully spiritual” (NY Times)

Watch Steve talk about composing Traveler’s Prayer here

Music for Ensemble and Orchestra marked Steve Reich’s first orchestral score in 30 years and was given premiere performances by Los Angeles Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestra among others. The LA Times called it a “breathtakingly beauteous and perfectly pitched work”

Listen to an extract from the Nonesuch recording performed by LA Phil here

Following the European premiere of Jacob’s Ladder in Paris, the work will have performances in Stockholm, London, Porto, Istanbul and Vancouver

Watch the European premiere on ARTE (begins 28 minutes) here

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