Born in 1936, Steve Reich is an American minimalist composer whose work has been heavily influenced by jazz and African rhythms, as well as a deep Jewish spirituality. Known for his fascination with counterpoint, “phasing” (where the composition slowly changes incrementally over time), and his preference for rhythm over melody, Reich made most of his innovations in the sixties and seventies when minimalism exploded across the classical music scene with the work of such greats as Terry Riley and Philip Glass. Steve Reich is my favorite composer of all time – there really is nothing else like his work, he is a complete original who cannot be imitated.
I discovered Steve Reich while listening to WNYC2, which then became Q2, an internet radio stream run by WNYC in New York. Q2 offered something I couldn’t find anywhere else, something I didn’t even know about before I discovered it – modern classical music, by living composers. Q2 eventually became part of WNYC’s New Sounds radio stream, and it doesn’t play as much modern classical anymore, but it’s still a pretty good stream. At its height though, it had great radio hosts, and interviews and soundbites from most of the notable modern composers of today.
Reich’s most famous work is probably “Music for 18 Musicians”, which I have on vinyl. Of course, most performances of this piece include more than 18 musicians, because the original version required many of the musicians to play multiple instruments. Somewhere between Balinese gamelan music and Western impressionism, “Music for 18 Musicians” is best described as a 57 minute “pulse”. It’s certainly not for everyone, but the piece’s uncompromising originality just cannot be underestimated.