Minimalism Turns Fifty
This September marks the 50th anniversary of musical Minimalism, an artistic revolution which critic Kyle Gann has described as “the most important musico-historical event of my lifetime.” I’m delighted to announce that Sequenza21, in collaboration with the exciting new concert series Music On MacDougal, will be celebrating this important milestone with a concert of early Minimalist music.

When: September 17th, 2008 at 8:00 PM
Where: The Players Theatre, in Greenwich Village, Manhattan
115 MacDougal Street, New York, NY 10012
Tickets: By Phone: 212-352-3101 or Online.

Steve Reich — “Piano Phase” (1967) (Version for two Marimbas)
Philip Glass — “Piece in the Shape of a Square” (1967)
Terry Jennings — “Piano Piece” (December 1958) and “Piano Piece” (June 1960)
Terry Riley — “In C” (1964)

We know that this September is the fiftieth anniversary because in September of 1958 La Monte Young completed his “Trio for Strings,” which is generally regarded as the first true Minimalist piece. Young is arranging for a performance of the Trio later in the season, and our concert is focused on representative pieces from the first 10 years of the movement. “Piano Phase” is arguably the high point of Reich’s use of phasing, and a perfect example of his “music as a gradual process.” “Piece in the Shape of a Square” illustrates Glass’s early interest in additive processes. “In C” represents the arrival of the pulsating, repetitive, tonal Minimalism which has dominated the genre ever since.

In some ways the most exciting pieces on the program are the early “Piano Pieces” by Terry Jennings. Jennings (who died tragically in 1981) was the first composer to understand what Young was doing and to follow in his footsteps, and in December 1958, a mere two months after Young completed the “Trio for Strings,” eighteen year old Jennings wrote the first of three “Piano Pieces.” We’re presenting the first two of these pieces, which we believe haven’t been performed publicly since 1989.

This concert is also the inaugural concert of the Players Theatre’s hot new concert series “Music On MacDougal.” Curated by pianist Sheryl Lee, Music On MacDougal promises to become one of New York’s most interesting presenters of new music–classical and otherwise. This season’s lineup includes the DITHER Electric Guitar Quartet, Mantra Percussion, Moet, Newspeak, Grenzenlos, Matrix Music Collaborators, and others. The full season schedule can be found here.

The M50 concert has been sponsored in part by a generous contribution from Cold Blue Records. The performers are a veritable who’s who of hotshot New York musicians. The current lineup (subject to a few changes) is Mike McCurdy (Percussion), Jessica Schmitz (Flute), Elizabeth Janzen (Flute), Joseph Kubera (Piano), Dan Bassin (Trumpet), George Berry (Trombone), Sila Eser (Viola) Gillian Gallagher (Viola), and Adam Havrilla (Bassoon).

This concert is, to the best of our knowledge, the only concert celebrating this important anniversary, so you won’t want to miss it. See you in September!

7 thoughts on “M50: Minimalism Turns Fifty”
  1. “There are also a number of works by Loren Rush of the same era (Rush was improvising with Riley and Oliveros in 1958!) which are critical to later developments but have, until very recently, been more or less erased from historical accounts.”

    — Daniel Wolf


    Speaking of new music from 1958 to about 1967 (and for those who haven’t yet seen it), David W. Bernstein’s new “The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde” appears to do a remarkable job of resurrecting works and ideas of Pauline Oliveros, Morton Subotnick, Ramon Sender, William Maginnis, and Tony Martin.

    I haven’t yet had time to view the two-hour, enclosed DVD of the Rensselaer ‘Wow and Flutter Festival’ from two years back (though I bet Steve Layton and others have):

    Pauline Oliveros and Tony Martin, Circuitry for 5 percussionists and lights

    Morton Subotnick, Until Spring Revisited for laptop and 8-channel audio

    Tony Martin, Silent Light with images and light projections

    Ramon Sender, Tropical Fish Opera for fish and four musicians

    Morton Subotnick, Mandolin for viola, piano, tape with visual composition and performance by Tony Martin

    Pauline Oliveros, Bye, bye Butterfly for tape with visual composition and performance by Tony Martin

    Ramon Sender, Great Grandpa Lemuel’s Death-Rattle Reincarnation Blues

    Pauline Oliveros, Apple Box Double

    Ramon Sender, Kore for tape with with visual composition and performance by Tony Martin

    Ramon Sender, Desert Ambulance for accordion, tape, with visual composition and performance by Tony Martin

    Morton Subotnick, Release for clarinet, violin, cello, piano and 8-channel computer

    Pauline Oliveros, Pauline’s Solo for accordion and eight channel Expanded Instrument System (EIS)


  2. hmm i love the terry jennings piano piece, which i had the pleasure of hearing at one of the wandelweiser concerts in düsseldorf, played by john mcalpine

  3. All sound like good candidates for when it can become a festival rather than a single concert! I wonder if there are any other “Minimalism at 50” concerts happening elsewhere? (& I’m sure that date is going to vary widely, depending on what people define as the seminal moment.)

  4. Galen,

    the works by the composers I named that I was thinking of all date from around 1958-61, for example Joseph Byrd’s Fish (1961), in which several elements prescient of In C appear or Leedy’s pieces(1960) for piano four-hand in which an atonal texture is thins to long isolated tones and passages with small tonal groups. There are also a number of works by Loren Rush of the same era (Rush was improvising with Riley and Oliveros in 1958!) which are critical to later developments but have, until very recently, been more or less erased from historical accounts.

  5. Daniel– I certainly take your point, but programming any concert like this necessarily involves a lot of tradeoffs and priority setting. We limited ourselves to Minimalist music composed in the first 10 years (1958 to 1968) and we were limited to a single concert of reasonable length. Reich and Glass are such giants in the genre, and their influence on thousands of composers over the past 50 years has been so profound that we felt it was important to include them. In C was a watershed moment, the transition from the long-tone Minimalism that Young had been doing that, again, an anniversary celebration would have seemed incomplete without him. But we really did want to represent lesser-known but also very important music, and Jennings was the ideal candidate. He’s known primarily by reputation, but it was with his 1958 “Piano Piece” that Minimalism went from some-wierd-stuff-La-Monte-Young-was-doing to a movement. Plus, they’re beautiful little pieces that almost nobody has heard. I would have loved to program Dennis Johnson as well, but for a variety of reasons it just wasn’t practical.

    Anyway, I don’t know if that helps, but that’s how the sausage was made. Ultimately, I’m very happy with the program–I love everything on it, I think it accomplishes what we wanted it to accomplish, and I’m looking forward to it 🙂


  6. As welcome as it is to have the Jennings performances, there are other examples of the radical West Coast music that were critical to what would become, later, identified as minimal music. These include works by Richard Maxfield, Joseph Byrd, Loren Rush, Dennis Johnson, and Douglas Leedy.

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