Steve Reich at 70 (Barbican)


Occasional Writings

The French music critic and broadcaster Daniel Caux used to say that there have been three major new developments in music since the Second World War: the music of John Cage, American minimalism, and English experimental music. I have been lucky enough to have been involved with all three.

Steve Reich and I first met over 35 years ago at the time of his first performances in England. There was a sense of community between him (and other American composers outside the avant-garde mainstream) and English composers of experimental music. As it happened, both Steve and I had studied philosophy and we were all closer to the world of the fine arts than to establishment music. We exchanged tapes of our respective recent pieces and in 1972, along with Michael Nyman, Cornelius Cardew and Michael Parsons, I toured with Steve’s group, performing drumming.

The rigour and clarity of his early work is immediately apparent, and his concept of “music as a gradual process”- the way in which he leads the attentive listener through the music at the music’s own pace – is nothing short of brilliant. It would have been easy for him to have stayed within his “classic” early way of writing, to have found endless permutations within it, and to have cruised along with great success. But it is a mark of his artistic integrity and intelligence that he did not do so.

From 1972 onwards he began to make more “compositional” decisions such as evolving orchestration (Drumming), harmonic movement (Music for 18 Musicians), the use of texts (Tehellim). He also worked with other ensembles – orchestras, choirs – outside the confines of his own group of musicians but at the same time kept his strong commitment to those incredible virtuosi that make up Steve Reich and Musicians.

I am proud to have been one of those musicians for a brief period of time, and to have maintained friendship with him, and with them. I am also happy to have had the chance to write a new piece, dedicated to him, for his 70th birthday.

Gavin Bryars

Gavin Bryars