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Sunday, March 4, 2012

BAM Iconic Artist: Steve Reich

Photo credit: Beatriz Schiller

Steve Reich’s body of work reflects an imagination both profoundly curious and disciplined, ranging from studies that use the body as an instrument to large-scale compositions concerning philosophical
issues. Born in New York City, Reich received a philosophy degree at Cornell. At Mills College, in Oakland, California, he studied composition with Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud, earning an MA in music. In his early compositions, Reich experimented with tape loops, text, and shifting phrasing, notably in Piano Phase (1967). From 1974 to 1976, he composed Music for 18 Musicians, a hypnotic performance in which percussionists move between instruments, creating an invisible web of movement. “I think it’s effective because it’s coming out of necessity,” Reich said. “It’s not choreography—it’s simply watching a task being done.”

This concept was central to the Judson Church movement, whose performances Reich attended. Around the same time, he also saw Balanchine’s ballets set to music by Stravinsky. “I’ve always been interested in dance and in the relationship between music and dance. I’ve also always felt that what I do is danceable because sometimes while composing, I dance while I’m doing it,” Reich noted. A rich emotional soundscape arises out of his music’s complex, shifting sections, graduated dynamics and volume that shape phrases, and words that dart between meaning and aural pattern. His rigorous compositions have been favored by choreographers who have frequented BAM, particularly Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, who has employed Reich’s work in numerous productions, beginning with Fase, four movements to the music of Steve Reich (1982), which Reich calls a masterpiece. Other choreographers who have set dance to Reich’s music include Jerome Robbins, Laura Dean, and Doug Varone.

Reich’s history at BAM is extensive. In 1971, Reich and his group performed Drumming, and in 1982 he was first presented under the Next Wave rubric. In 2002, with his wife, video artist Beryl Korot, he created Three Tales, a documentary digital video opera about the Hindenburg, the atomic bomb, and cloning. With other large venues, BAM hosted a major element of Steve Reich @ 70 (2006)—a two-part evening with choreography by De Keersmaeker and Akram Khan. Reich—who has garnered a Pulitzer Prize, received Grammy and Bessie Awards, and been honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters and awarded the Ordre des Arts et Lettres—might be forgiven if he sported a laurel wreath rather than the baseball cap he favors in performance.

Susan Yung

This text was excerpted from BAM: The Complete Works . Click here for more information on the book. Steve Reich will participate in an Iconic Artist Talk with John Schaefer on Tuesday, March 6.

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