Back in 1968, when Steve Reich was in his early 30s and just beginning to make a name for himself, he wrote a short essay that he called "Music as a Gradual Process." A musical composition, he felt, should be the unfolding of a process — a process that can be heard, and that will convey, by its transparency, feelings of joy, wonder, and communality.
Now, looking back over his four decades of work since that time, we can see Reich's whole output as an immense gradual process, one of continuing expansion and enrichment. Certainly there have been moments of darkening, in keeping with the times, but the essentials of the process have remained sure. From pulse and repetition come abundant life, and intricate patterings through time are propelled by an abiding optimism.
To mark the 70th birthday of this great New York artist, three of the city's leading arts institutions are jointly celebrating the event: The Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, and Lincoln Center. Carnegie Hall's retrospective takes place over three days. On Thursday, October 19, in Zankel Hall, Brad Lubman — a conductor with a keen feeling for the precision and zest of Reich's music — will lead young players in neat pairings of scores from the exuberant 1970s and '80s (Music for Pieces of Wood, Sextet) with prime works from the more tenebrous 1990s (Triple Quartet, City Life). The players will have just completed a Professional Training Workshop with Reich, a program of The Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall. The following Saturday, in Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage, comes an all-star concert featuring Pat Metheny and the Kronos Quartet playing spectacular pieces that Reich wrote for them, Electric Counterpoint and Different Trains. Then the composer's own ensemble — Steve Reich and Musicians, still including some who were performing with him in the 1960s — will be joined by Synergy Vocals in the exultant Music for 18 Musicians.
On Sunday, October 22, join the composer himself for Discovery Day: Steve Reich, a new Sound Insights program under the auspices of The Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall. Audiences will explore Reich's music and learn about his influences during an afternoon that includes discussion, performances, and a film screening. Finally, on Sunday evening, the composer will be talking with Carnegie Hall Senior Director and Artistic Advisor Ara Guzelimian to introduce another great array, going back to the early Piano Phase, which will be reinterpreted for the 21st century by David Cossin as an astonishing virtuoso act for percussionist and video-recorded double. Also on the program is the U.S. premiere of Daniel Variations (a co-commission of The Carnegie Hall Corporation), a meditation for voices and large ensemble on two heroic Daniels, the biblical figure and the contemporary journalist, Daniel Pearl, who was slain by terrorists in 2002. This concert will end with the classic of classics from Reich's output: Drumming.
As these concerts will show, Reich's is virtuoso music. It is also generous. By raising our sights on human potential, it honors and challenges us all.
Paul Griffiths's most recent book is A Concise History of Western Music.
Visit the Rose Museum for a special exhibit on Steve Reich, starting October 19.