Terry Riley: Obsessed and Passionate About All Music
Interview Excerpt #8
FRANK J. OTERI: You haven’t written much music for orchestra. Certainly in today’s society, the orchestra is not really a medium that’s amenable to personal contact. Often times you’ll get two or three rehearsals and that’ll be the end of it. There’ll be one performance and that’ll be the piece. It’s a shame though, because I know I heard a piece that you did for the Brooklyn Philharmonic which I thought was fantastic. And I thought: "Wow I’d love to hear more Terry Riley orchestral music." How can composers create music for large ensembles at this point in time and maintain that personal contact which I think is so crucial to the success of your music, but the success of so much other music as well?
TERRY RILEY: Well, if you have someone you can collaborate with, if I had a conductor who said: "I’ll put the same amount of work into your orchestral music as Kronos put in the string quartets." That would be a good starting point, but that’s economically unfeasible today, conductors can’t usually commit too much time. Occasionally, there’ll be some work that they’ll devote a lot of time to. But everything I’ve done… I’ve done three pieces for full orchestra and a couple of string orchestra pieces and they’ve all been under-rehearsed, I mean really under-rehearsed and except for I’d say my string quartet concerto, The Sands which the Kronos had played…
FRANK J. OTERI: That’s a great piece.
TERRY RILEY: Yeah, that got rehearsed more and that’s what it takes. I think the other problem is the kind of things I like to happen in music I think work best with lighter forces because it’s more mobile and rhythms can shift faster and there’s more clarity. Orchestras are fairly ponderous and it’s sometimes hard to get some of these really active shifts in tempo and things that I like to get and have them be clear. You know, have them be able to play with the clarity of a small jazz ensemble or something.
FRANK J. OTERI: You’ve also improvised music with other players, both Western musicians and musicians of other traditions. You mentioned Krishna Bhatt earlier this week. How do you perceive the difference as a composer looking at a work where you’re collaborating with others, playing music with others, versus when you’re writing a piece of music for others?
TERRY RILEY: Well, again there we have to have a lot of time to rehearse together. Krishna Bhatt and I have really spent a lot of time sitting together doing music. Both traditional raga and some so-called fusion-type things which evolve from Western musical principles. So that to me the main element is just hanging out with the person so long that you start thinking alike.