In this programme
An extended interview with the American composer Steve Reich
Steve Reich, celebrates his 70 th birthday next year. Credited as one of the fathers of musical minimalism, he developed the idea of constantly repeated musical patterns after performing in Terry Riley's pioneering In C in the 1960s. In works like the tape pieces Come Out and It's Gonna Rain, Reich found ways of looping fragments of speech that create hypnotic textures. Later, he translated this idea to instrumental music in works like Piano Phase and Violin Phase . His music represented a new aesthetic, both mysteriously tonal and vibrantly rhythmic.
Reich found a way of composing that was rigorous, dynamic, and expressive, but had nothing to do with serialism, atonality, or even harmony. It was American, vital, and, unclassifiable. When Music for 18 Musicians , written in 1976, was first released on disc, record shops did not know whether to file it under 'jazz' or 'classical'.
Always outside the classical mainstream, Reich started out composing for his own ensemble, Steve Reich and Musicians. Then in the late 70s he began to get orchestral commissions, which resulted in pieces like Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards , and The Desert Music , from 1984. But he turned away from these large-scale works to go back to tape music. The string quartet Different Trains , part-autobiography and part-Holocaust memorial, combines live musicians with a tape track. Later, in collaboration with his wife, the video artist Beryl Korot, he created The Cave and Three Tales . These pieces show Reich dealing with Judaism, with both sides of the middle-east conflict, and with issues surrounding contemporary science.
In his most recent compositions, Reich has returned to his earlier preoccupations. You Are (Variations) sets the texts of Ludwig Wittgenstein, long a Reich favourite, as well as Jewish religious texts, for a mixed ensemble of singers and instrumentalists and in Cello Counterpoint Reich has composed the latest in a series of pieces combining a solo instrument with multiple recorded versions of itself. Tom talks to Steve Reich about these latest works, about the religious content of his music, his interest in Judaism, his views on scientific investigation and his rejection of the orchestra.