Composer Steve Reich, recipient of a 2011 honorary Doctor of Music degree from New England Conservatory, was in residence at NEC in November 2007 for a celebration of his music that included four standing-room-only concerts and other public events.
Reich sits among a group of great American minimalist composers that includes Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and La Monte Young. Minimalism’s emphasis on accessibility and periodic rhythm draws admiration from pop music lovers, while its ravishing sonorities attract the attention of serious classical music fans.
Steve Reich’s earliest works for tape from the 1960s, It's Gonna Rain and Come Out, introduced his idea of phase-shifting, which is the act of allowing two nearly identical phrases or sound samples at slightly differing lengths or speeds to repeat and slowly go out of phase with each other. Phase-shifting is the equivalent of today’s looping technique that DJs and electronic music artists use to create musical landscapes on their laptops. Sample a bit of percussion from wherever your inspiration is drawn, set the loop to playback a numerous (or infinite) amount of times, and you’ve got yourself a virtual drummer, with thanks to the early ingenuity of Steve Reich’s compositional techniques. His early tape works utilized the human voice to this effect, and was further expanded upon with “real” instruments in works such as Piano Phase, Violin Phase, and Drumming. Live, phasing is obviously more difficult to reproduce versus the workings of a tape machine—but NEC’s players took up the challenge of working together in unison to recreate the actions of such a machine. These live performances create layers of melodic percussion that have the power to engulf the concert hall in colorful rhythms and tones.
On November 28 and 29, 2007, crowds of Reich fans experienced firsthand phase-shifting and other minimalist delights in two nights of back-to-back afternoon and evening concerts that explored Reich’s deliciously complex and musically intense compositions that climax in hypnotic layers of repetition.
Works performed at NEC during Reich's residency
1967 Piano Phase
1967 Violin Phase
1973 Six Pianos
1974–1976 Music for Eighteen Musicians
1982 Vermont Counterpoint
1988, orch. 2000 Different Trains
1995/2005 City Life
1998 Triple Quartet
2006 Daniel Variations
Performers included Stephen Drury and Yukiko Takagi, the Borromeo String Quartet, nec shivaree, Callithumpian Consort, NEC Philharmonia, NEC Contemporary Ensemble, the NEC Wind Ensemble, and soloists Emily Quane, Sheena Ramirez, Jonathan Reed, and Alex Powell.
2007-11-28 Piano Phase, Different Trains, Six Pianos, Music for Eighteen Musicians
2007-11-29 Drumming, Violin Phase, Triple Quartet, Vermont Counterpoint, City Life (Boston premiere), Daniel Variations (Boston premiere)
For further reference
Watch NEC students rehearse Music for Eighteen Musicians
Stream a Steve Reich at UC Berkeley performance from 1970
Portal to Reich 70th birthday content at the Whitney Museum
Video clips at stevereich.com