Steve Reich has been called “the most original musical thinker of our time” (The New Yorker) and “among the great composers of the century” (The New York Times). Starting in the 1960s, his pieces It’s Gonna Rain, Drumming, Music for 18 Musicians, Tehillim, Different Trains, and many others helped shift the aesthetic center of musical composition worldwide away from extreme complexity and towards rethinking pulsation and tonal attraction in new ways. He continues to influence younger generations of composers and mainstream musicians and artists all over the world.
Born in New York and raised there and in California, Reich graduated with honors in philosophy from Cornell University in 1957. For the next two years, he studied composition with Hall Overton, and from 1958 to 1961, he studied at the Juilliard School of Music with Vincent Persichetti and William Bergsma. Reich received his master’s degree in music from Mills College in 1963, where he worked with Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud. His studies have also included Balinese gamelan, African drumming (at the University of Ghana), and traditional forms of chanting of the Hebrew scriptures.
His ensemble Steve Reich and Musicians toured the world many times, and his music is performed internationally by major ensembles and orchestras, including the New York and Los Angeles philharmonics; London, Sydney, San Francisco, and BBC symphony orchestras; London Sinfonietta; Kronos Quartet; Ensemble Intercontemporain; Ensemble Modern; Britten Sinfonia; Colin Currie Group; Ensemble Signal; International Contemporary Ensemble; Bang on a Can All-Stars; Alarm Will Sound; and eighth blackbird.
Double Sextet won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009, and Different Trains, Music for 18 Musicians, and an album of his percussion works performed by Third Coast Percussion have all earned GRAMMY Awards. He received the Praemium Imperiale in Tokyo, the Polar Music Prize in Stockholm, the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge award in Madrid, the Del Duca prize of the Institut de France in Paris, the Nemmers Prize from Northwestern University, the MacDowell Colony Medal in New Hampshire, the Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall, and the Gold Medal in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has been named Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France, and awarded honorary doctorates by the Royal College of Music in London, the Juilliard School in New York, and the Liszt Academy in Budapest, among others.
Reich has been widely recorded starting back in the 1960s and ’70s by Columbia Masterworks, Deutsche Grammophon, and ECM records. Beginning in 1985, he began an exclusive recording relationship with Nonesuch Records. Since then Nonesuch has released 22 new recordings of his music and two large boxed sets. Recent releases include the world premiere recordings of Reich/Richter, Runner, and Music for Ensemble and Orchestra. A definitive collection of his recordings by Nonesuch is planned for 2023.
One of the most frequently choreographed composers, several noted choreographers have created dances to his music, including Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Jirí Kylián, Jerome Robbins, Justin Peck, Wayne McGregor, Benjamin Millepied, and Christopher Wheeldon.
His 2019 work Reich/Richter, composed for a film by visual artist Gerhard Richter and film maker Corinna Belz, was presented in over 100 live performances by Ensemble Signal and International Contemporary Ensemble as part of the opening of The Shed in New York City. The work has since toured the UK and Europe, with performances by the Britten Sinfonia, Ensemble intercontemporain, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, and Oslo Philharmonic.
Reich’s documentary video opera works—The Cave and Three Tales, done in collaboration with video artist Beryl Korot—opened new directions for music theater and have been performed on four continents. His work Quartet, for percussionist Colin Currie, sold out two consecutive concerts at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London shortly after tens of thousands at the Glastonbury Festival heard Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead) perform Electric Counterpoint, followed by the London Sinfonietta performing his Music for 18 Musicians.
In 2022, Reich published a new book Conversations (Hanover Square Press / Harper Collins), which reflects on the composer’s career and music through a series of conversations with some of the world’s greatest artists, including Stephen Sondheim, Michael Tilson Thomas, Brian Eno, Richard Serra, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, and Jonny Greenwood.
“There’s just a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history and Steve Reich is one of them,” The Guardian.