Terry Riley: Obsessed and Passionate About All Music
Interview Excerpt #7
FRANK J. OTERI: I would dare say you spawned yet another thing in contemporary music when the Kronos Quartet asked you to write a string quartet for them. Before that happened I think a lot of composers were really ignoring the string quartet. And since that’s happened, the string quartet is so alive and now there are quartets all over the country and all over the world playing new music in a variety of styles and to some extent I think that the collaboration with Kronos in the mid-80s is responsible for that. What prompted you to write music for them after years of not writing music for other people?
TERRY RILEY: Well, as you know, I didn’t write any music down in the 70s, that was a period where I was in a non-notational mood so when David Harrington came to Mills College where I was teaching, he started talking to me right away about writing a string quartet. Now I love string quartets. I’d written one in college, and Bartók… At one time I sat and listened to Bartók string quartets for hours on end just because I loved those pieces of his so much. And so it wasn’t really hard, I didn’t resist it too much when he suggested writing a string quartet. It was a little hard for me to get warmed up to writing music again because I’d gotten into this totally non-notational frame of mind. I saw music as a spontaneous sonic event that had no paper and pencil involved at all.
FRANK J. OTERI: Now since you’ve written those string quartets, and you’ve written quite a few at this point, you’ve also written for a number of other ensembles, I’m thinking most notably of the wonderful work you did with the Rova Saxophone Quartet. In some ways the saxophone quartet is a wind equivalent of a string quartet in that you have the same sonority translated across a range of instruments. Are there any other ensembles that you like writing for as well as this point?
TERRY RILEY: Well I’ve written for Zeitgeist who I enjoyed working with. A lot of times I’ll write just because of the musicians. You know, not necessarily that they’re playing any particular instrument but the musicians themselves seem to be the kind of people that I think would be really devoted to the kind of thing I write. And that’s what it requires for a really good collaboration. Since I played saxophone, I ended up writing a lot of saxophone quartets, you know I’ve written a couple since the Rova and I’m writing one right now.