The artists' colony has presented the medal annually since 1960 to "an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the arts." The list of composers who have won the medal includes some of the most important composers of the 20th century: Edgard Varese, Roger Sessions, William Schuman, Walter Piston, Virgil Thomson, Samuel Barber, Elliott Carter, Leonard Bernstein, David Diamond, George Crumb, and Lou Harrison.
Reich was part of the first generation of minimalists, and his early works, including the seminal Drumming, were built around simple, repetitive patterns. His music makes use of taped sounds and speech, African and Balinese drumming and other non-Western music, and, most recently, video.
The committee that chose Reich included composers Francis Thorne, David Lang, Chen Yi, and Robert Beaser.
"Steve Reich is one of the towering giants of American music," Lang said. "His sound, which combines rigorous structures with propulsive rhythms and seductive instrumental color, is instantly recognizable, and has been influential to composers in America and all over the world. The intellectual discipline and intense musicality behind the exploration of these questions give his work a feeling of inexhaustible and perpetual innovation."