The Next Phase: Steve Reich talks to Richard Kessler About Redefinition and Renewal

What It's All About

Richard Kessler: I want to turn the tables on you for a second.

Steve Reich: Now, wait a minute, I’m not leaving anywhere. [laughs] I’ve got work to do here!

Richard Kessler: One of the reasons we thought this interview would be interesting was because before NewMusicBox was formally created, I did five interviews that were called “In The First Person” and you were the first one, the very first.

Steve Reich: I remember.

Richard Kessler: At the end of the interview, I remember we were sitting in your apartment in Manhattan and it started to get very dark. We were there for a couple of hours and the sun was going down. It was really great, and I said to you at one point how beautiful your music was. I think what I said to you basically is that very often people, especially when they write about it, analyze the structure and complexity of it.

Steve Reich: It depends on who they are…

Richard Kessler: That always seemed to be more likely the case, rather than just saying how beautiful it is. And what I wanted to do was just take a second—you’re not going to find a bigger fan of Steve Reich’s music than me and I don’t know how often you get to hear someone say thank you because of how much time I spend in my life listening to your music and how much joy it has brought my life…

Steve Reich: That’s great…

Richard Kessler: I’ll give you an example. I saw you at the concert—when Keersmaeker did Drumming.

Steve Reich: Yeah, right.

Richard Kessler: We were at Drumming and that was a perfect example. It was not just the visual, the dance, but the music itself actually makes my body feel good. It brings a physical pleasure. And I remember also when I heard Tehillim, I heard it a few times, the first time with Robert Spano. He was lost for a second. I remember he was flipping the score.

Steve Reich: The repeats of the canons are really scary. If you don’t have a tape marker on the right page, you’re dead!

Richard Kessler: I heard it with David Robertson recently.

Steve Reich: He’s great too…

Richard Kessler: But when I heard it with Alan Pierson at Miller, and that was another one where I was sitting there and I didn’t want the music to stop. It just actually washed over my body. I remember when I was with the Quintet. Terry Szor, one of the trumpeters—he plays in Broadway shows and all sorts of things, great guy—he turned me on to Steve Reich. He said, “You gotta listen to Music for 18 Musicians.” And I was a trombone player. We were playing Victor Ewald, Malcolm Arnold, nothing wrong with Malcolm Arnold but I hadn’t heard anything like this. I just didn’t know. And he said to me, “This music changed my life.” And how many times have I heard people say that to me about Music for 18? David Lang, has said it, any number of people have said this. And so I wanted to take a moment here and say how much I love your music and how much joy it’s brought into my life.

Steve Reich: That’s what it’s all about. J.S. Bach said it’s “Das Affect.” And that’s the whole story. No one gives you an S for structure. If it doesn’t really get to people then why bother… The reason I write is because it gets to me. If I don’t love to listen to the mp3 midi mock up while I’m climbing stairs for exercise then I’ve failed. [laughs]

Richard Kessler: Well, you’ve succeeded in remarkable ways. The time that [my wife] Debbie and I spend listening… I’ve given CDs of it to so many folks. There are so many people, especially in the orchestra business, that I’ve talked to about Tehillim. One of the things that’s wrong with the orchestra business is the fact that there could be a piece like Tehillim out there which isn’t being played a lot by orchestras.

Steve Reich: Well, there’s one I’m working on it right now which is called You Are (Variations). It is a kind of relation of Tehillim, maybe it’s better. I’m writing it for strings, probably 3-3-3-3-1, but I think it could be done slightly larger. It would be a relatively easy crossover from ensemble to orchestra. Of course, once you’ve got to hire singers, nothing’s easy.

Richard Kessler: When will it be premiered?

Steve Reich: It will be premiered out in Disney Hall with the L.A. Master Chorale and Ensemble conducted by Grant Gershon on October 24 of this year and then it goes to Frankfurt and London in January of next year with the Ensemble Modern conducted by Stefan Asbury. It will come to New York in October 2006 when, G-d willing, I’ll be 70.

Richard Kessler: Big celebration I understand.

Steve Reich: There’s a lot of stuff being planned including that piece plus two other new ones which I haven’t even begun, all to be premiered, along with a lot of older pieces. First at Carnegie, Lincoln Center, and BAM, then all over Europe—I better get busy.

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