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Nemmers prize winner Steve Reich honored with Bienen concert

Pulitzer and Grammy award-winning composer to complete first of two residencies

EVANSTON - Steve Reich, winner of Northwestern University’s Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, will attend music rehearsals, discussions with students and faculty and a performance of his work when he visits the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music Feb. 7 to 9.

The residency culminates in Contemporary Music Ensemble and Percussion Ensemble: The Music of Steve Reich at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, on the Evanston campus. Following an intermission, Reich will engage in a conversation with Alan Pierson, who will conduct the Bienen School of Music ensembles in the program honoring Reich’s work.

Called “our greatest living composer” by The New York Times, Reich embraces aspects of Western classical music as well as the structures, harmonies and rhythms of non-Western and American vernacular music, particularly jazz, in his work. The Pulitzer Prize-winning and Grammy Award-winning composer has received numerous honors, and his work has been performed by major orchestras and ensembles around the world.

In the program honoring Reich’s work, the Bienen School of Music ensembles will feature three of the renowned composer’s most well-known pieces: “Clapping Music,” “City Life” and “Music for 18 Musicians.” Composed in 1972, “Clapping Music” was written for two musicians and is performed entirely by clapping. Reich’s intent was to “create a piece of music that needed no instruments beyond the human body.” Written in 1995, “City Life” is scored for winds, strings and percussion and also incorporates typical city sounds (such as car horns, brakes, slamming doors, subway chimes and police sirens) and speech samples. “Music for 18 Musicians,” completed in 1976, is built upon two overarching types of rhythm: the regular, rhythmic pulse created by pianos and mallet percussion and the rhythm of the human breath created by vocalists and wind instruments.

Tickets to the concert are $6 for the general public and $4 for students with valid ID and are available on the Concerts@Bienen website, by phone at 847-467-4000 or by visiting the Pick-Staiger box office.

About Steve Reich

Reich’s originality and influence has inspired generations of musicians in multiple genres, from his early taped-speech pieces “It’s Gonna Rain” (1965) and “Come Out” (1966) to his digital video operas with video artist Beryl Korot, “The Cave” (1993) and “Three Tales” (2002).

“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 (London) stated.

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.

Carnegie Hall celebrated 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.

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.”

His composition “Double Sextet” earned him the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Music.

Reich was awarded the Schuman Award 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 in 2000. In 2006, he was awarded membership in the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, and, in 2007, he received the Chubb Fellowship at Yale University.

He also has been honored with both the Japanese Praemium Imperiale Award in Music and the Polar Music Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, where he was elected to membership in 2008. 

Among the orchestras and ensembles that have performed Reich’s work around the world are the London Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, London Sinfonietta, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Boston Symphony Orchestra.

His proclivity for crossing boundaries began early with his bi-coastal upbringing and wide-ranging education. Reich was born in New York and raised there and in California. After earning a degree in philosophy from Cornell University in 1957, he spent two years studying composition with jazz pianist/composer Hall Overton. From 1958 to 1961 he studied at the Juilliard School with legendary opera and new music composers William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti, Reich received a master’s degree in music from Mills College in 1963, where he worked with electronic music composer Luciano Berio and modernist Darius Milhaud.

The Bienen School is a member of the Northwestern Arts Circle.