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Steve Reich Awarded 2016 Nemmers Prize in Music Composition

Northwestern University recognizes composer with $100,000 prize
  • Award honors contemporary classical composers of exceptional achievement
  • Pulitzer Prize in Music and two Grammy awards are among Reich’s accolades 
  • Reich to visit Northwestern Evanston campus for residencies in 2016-17 and 2017-18
  • Three public concerts featuring Reich’s music to be performed by Bienen School ensembles

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Steve Reich, recently called “our greatest living composer” by The New York Times and “...the most original musical thinker of our time” by The New Yorker, has been awarded the $100,000 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition from the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University.

Established in 2004, the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition honors classical music composers of outstanding achievement who have significantly influenced the field of composition.

Previous winners of the biennial award include John Adams (2004), Oliver Knussen (2006), Kaija Saariaho (2008), John Luther Adams (2010), Aaron Jay Kernis (2012) and Esa-Pekka Salonen (2014).

“I am delighted and honored to receive the 2016 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition from Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music,” Reich said. “It is particularly gratifying to be honored in this way by a school of music that demonstrates such passionate commitment to the study, composition and performance of new music. I look forward to my two residencies at Northwestern for concerts of my music in 2017." 

Reich’s Bienen School of Music residencies, planned during the next two academic years in February and November 2017, will feature three concerts of his music performed by the Bienen School’s Contemporary Music Ensemble (CME), Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble (BCE) and Percussion Ensemble. Reich also will engage in other activities, such as coaching student ensembles, meeting with student composers and participating in moderated discussions.

“The Bienen School of Music is pleased that the awarding of the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize to Mr. Reich coincides with his 80th birthday celebration,” said Toni-Marie Montgomery, dean of the Bienen School of Music. “This prize, along with the activities of our Institute for New Music and performances by our various student ensembles, contribute to the school’s focus on presenting world-class contemporary music to Northwestern University and broader Chicago-area audiences.”


Steve Reich’s path has embraced not only aspects of Western classical music but the structures, harmonies and rhythms of non-Western and American vernacular music, particularly jazz -- from his early taped speech pieces “It’s Gonna Rain” (1965) and “Come Out” (1966) -- to his digital video operas, “The Cave” (1993) and “Three Tales” (2002) with video artist Beryl Korot. “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,” stated The Guardian (London).

Reich was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his composition “Double Sextet.” He previously received both the Polar Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and the Japanese Praemium Imperiale Award in Music.

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. From 1958 to 1961 he studied at the Juilliard School with William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti. Reich received a master’s degree in music from Mills College in 1963, where he worked with Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud. 

In 1966, Reich founded his own ensemble of three musicians, which rapidly grew to 18 members or more. Since 1971, Steve Reich and Musicians have frequently toured the world, and have the distinction of performing to sold-out houses at venues as diverse as Carnegie Hall and the Bottom Line Cabaret. 

Reich received a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Composition for “Different Trains,” as recorded by the Kronos Quartet in 1990. “Different Trains” marked a new compositional method, rooted in “It’s Gonna Rain” and “Come Out,” in which speech recordings generate the musical material for musical instruments. The New York Times hailed the piece as “a work of such astonishing originality that breakthrough seems the only possible description... possesses an absolutely harrowing emotional impact.” Reich won a second Grammy Award in 1999 for his piece “Music for 18 Musicians."

In 2000, Reich was awarded the Schuman Prize from Columbia University, the Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College, the Regent’s Lectureship at the University of California at Berkeley, and an honorary doctorate from the California Institute of the Arts. He was named Composer of the Year by Musical America magazine. In 2006, he was awarded membership in the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, and, in 2007, he received the Chubb Fellowship at Yale University. In 2008, Reich was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.

Reich’s music has been performed by major orchestras and ensembles around the world, including the London Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, London Sinfonietta, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra and many others. 

Carnegie Hall will celebrate Reich’s 80th birthday Nov. 1, 2016, in Stern Auditorium with an all-Reich program featuring performances by ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble), So Percussion and Synergy Vocals and the world premiere of “Pulse,” a work co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall. Reich holds the 2016-17 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall. More information on Reich is available online


The Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition recognizes composers who show the highest-level of achievement in a substantial and continuing body of work. Nominations are solicited worldwide and the winner is determined by a committee comprising individuals of widely-recognized stature in the music community.

In addition to the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, Northwestern University awards the Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics, the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics, and the Mechthild Esser Nemmers Prize in Medical Science. All four Nemmers prizes are made possible through bequests from the late Erwin Esser Nemmers, a former member of the Northwestern University faculty, and his brother, the late Frederic E. Nemmers. Each prize is given every other year.

In February 2016, Northwestern awarded the inaugural Mechthild Esser Nemmers Prize in Medical Science to Dr. Huda Zoghbi, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor at Baylor College of Medicine.

In April, Northwestern University announced the recipients of the 2016 Nemmers prizes in economics and mathematics. Sir Richard Blundell, the David Ricardo Professor of Political Economy at University College London, received the 2016 Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics. János Kollár, the Donner Professor of Science and Professor of Mathematics at Princeton University, was awarded the 2016 Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics.

For more information on the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, visit the Bienen School of Music website.