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Happy Birthday, Steve

Steve Reich turns 70 today.  There will be the usual superlatives–greatest living composer, most important musical thinker, and other fun, but largely unreliable, speculations. We won’t burden Reich with any of them.  The path of music history is already littered with the ghosts of greatest livings whose work has since fallen into neglect and obscurity.  Others fade for awhile only to have their reputations re-claimed by forceful new advocates.  One of the great things about leaving behind a body of work as essential to its time as Reich’s is that it is a legacy each age can evaluate on its own terms and through the prism of its own judgements and tastes. 

Suffice it to say that Steve Reich is one of the few composers to have captured fame, fortune and widespread admiration in his own lifetime and one of the even fewer who have a real shot at musical immortality. That’s an achievement worth celebrating. 

And he still has time on the meter. 

Events in the Steve Reich@70 festival:


Choreography by Akram Khan and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, with the London Sinfonietta, Tuesday and Thursday through Oct. 7 at 7:30 p.m. BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, at Ashland Place, Fort Greene, (718) 636-4100


A concert by young artists participating in a weeklong professional training program, on Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m., Zankel Hall; a concert of works performed by the artists they were written for, including Pat Metheny and the Kronos Quartet, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m., Isaac Stern Auditorium; and a “discovery day” of lectures, talks and films, and an all-Reich program including “Drumming” and “Daniel Variations,” Oct. 22 starting at noon in Weill Hall, with the concert at 7:30 p.m. in Zankel Hall. (212) 247-7800


A concert with the Los Angeles Master Chorale including “Tehillim” and the New York premiere of “You Are (Variations),” Oct. 28 at 8 p.m. at Alice Tully Hall; and “The Cave,” Nov. 2 to 4 at 8 p.m., Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, 899 10th Avenue, at 58th Street. (212) 721-6500


An installation of “Three Tales” from Wednesday through Oct. 15, with a free four-hour concert by some important young ensembles (including Alarm Will Sound on Oct. 15 at 2 p.m. webcast live on 945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street(800) 944-8639.

Composer of the Month


Comment from Daniel G.
Time: October 3, 2006, 5:44 pm

Brave New World, this Sunday, October 8 at 7:00PM will celebrate Steve Reich. Tune in through streaming audio at!

Comment from David Salvage
Time: October 3, 2006, 8:21 pm

SR deserves a thread. Okay people : what’s the last great piece old Steve wrote? Some think it’s been a while . . .

Comment from Eric Lin
Time: October 3, 2006, 9:01 pm

I liked Three Tales quite a bit.

Comment from Galen H. Brown
Time: October 3, 2006, 9:04 pm

Well, David, it might turn out that the Daniel Variations is the latest great piece, but since I haven’t heard it I don’t know. But “Cello Counterpoint” is great. “You Are (Variations)” is solid but perhaps not great. But “Three Tales” — I think it’s a masterpiece.

Comment from Evan Johnson
Time: October 3, 2006, 10:44 pm

meh… Tehillim. If that. I found Three Tales distinctly underwhelming.

Maybe Four Organs. That’s a fantastic piece.

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: October 3, 2006, 10:50 pm

The Cave. As good as it gets. And I have enduring affection for Different Trains.

Comment from Mell Csicsila
Time: October 3, 2006, 11:45 pm

Nagoya Marimbas is a great ‘miniature’ for Reich.

My favorite work has to be either “Sextet” or “The Desert Music,” although Tehillim is strong.

I need to familiarize myself with his newer stuff, however.

(On the other hand, I might volunteer “The Four Sections” as my least favorite piece.)

Comment from Eric Schwartz
Time: October 4, 2006, 9:20 am

“Proverb” is a masterpiece, though there have been a number of very good pieces since then.

Happy birthday, Steve…

P.S. “The Four Sections” is pretty lame. The very underrated Reich orchestral masterpiece is “Music for Strings, Winds, and Keyboards”, one of the great orchestral works of the late 20th Century.

Comment from Aaron
Time: October 5, 2006, 12:04 am

I am distinctly surprised at the number of recent works on this list. I have to admit, I start losing interest by the mid-80s. And my favorite work, by far, is the earliest.

Piano Phase is superb, and Pendulum Music, the early tape pieces, Violin Phase are excellent. I really do like Music for a Large Ensemble and Eight Lines, too.

Of the more recent works, Nagoya Marimbas is a gem.

I’ve found The Cave (which I saw live), Three Tales, and, for that matter, most of the text pieces since the ’80s (Different Trains, Tehellim, Proverb, etc., etc.) rather wimpy, harmonically, melodically, rhythmically, and most importantly, formally.

Comment from Mell Csicsila
Time: October 5, 2006, 12:15 pm

I have to tell you that I prefer Scott Johnson’s text pieces like “John Somebody” and “Convertible Debts” to Reich’s. While the concept behind “Different Trains” is noble, the execution seems flaccid to me.

Comment from Anonymous
Time: October 5, 2006, 1:21 pm

Anybody see the premiere of Steve’s new Variations piece this week in NYC? I’m curious about it. The NYT reviewed the dance more than the music.

Comment from David Salvage
Time: October 5, 2006, 6:48 pm

I haven’t kept up so much with Steve, but — with the possible exception of Proverb — nothing on the City Life CD is worth much in my opinion. The Triple Quartet I found weak, and, while I haven’t heard all of Three Tales, what I have heard doesn’t suggest that Different Trains has been surprised. DT would have to be my vote. Tehillim is stunning.

Oh, while I’m killing time here: I spent three lectures last spring talking about M418M. I ended up slowly liking it less. The sound of the piece remains sensational, and many passages are simply ecstatic and gorgeous. But I kept discovering more and more passages that just seemed to be spinning wheels.

Time to put on the rice.

Comment from Dan VanHassel
Time: October 6, 2006, 9:39 am

But I kept discovering more and more passages that just seemed to be spinning wheels.

Um, isn’t that sort of the point?

Comment from Daniel G.
Time: October 6, 2006, 11:45 am

Follow up to my Brave New World post…

the playlist for this Sunday, and rebroadcast on Saturday Oct 14 at 9am (Eastern), is:

Variations for Winds, Strings, and Keyboards

Electric Counterpoint

Eight Lines

Unfortunately it’s only an hour show, and I wish I could play more.
You can tune in via streaming audio at

Hope you can listen!!