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Steve Reich Ensemble will perform “Different Trains,” “Drumming,” “New York Counterpoint,” “Nagoya Marimbas,” and other works at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 4, at Lafayette’s Williams Center for the Arts. “Different Trains” includes diary entries and other documentary writings culled from Holocaust survivors about “trains that carried them to unknown destinations.”

Tickets cost $20 and may be purchased by calling (610) 330-5009. Reich will give a pre-concert lecture at 7 p.m. in Williams Center room 108, assisted by Ellis Finger. The talk is free and open to the public.

The concert and lecture are part of the “Ancient Faiths, Modern Voices” festival, a Humanities and the Arts Initiative funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council with additional support from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Focusing on issues of faith and cultural expression, events will deal with how faith informs culture, how people’s heritage determines their place in history, and how a humane society enfolds its diverse ancestries and embraces its artistic expressions.

Reich, as an early pioneer in tape music and American minimalism, has established himself as one of the foremost composers of our time. He recently was called “America’s greatest living composer” by The Village VOICE. His paths have embraced not only aspects of Western classical music, but also the structures, harmonies, and rhythms of non-Western and American vernacular music, particularly jazz. “There’s just a handful of composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history and Steve Reich is one of them,” states The Guardian (London).

Reich has won two Grammy Awards. Last year, he received the Schuman Prize from Columbia University, the Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College, an honorary doctorate from the California Institute of the Arts, and was named Composer of the Year by Musical America magazine. Reich was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1994, to the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts in 1995, and in 1999, was awarded Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres.

Over the years, Reich has received commissions from the Barbican Centre London, the Holland Festival; San Francisco Symphony; the Rothko Chapel; Vienna Festival, Hebbel Theater, Berlin, the Brooklyn Academy of Music for guitarist Pat Metheny; Spoleto Festival USA, West German Radio, Cologne; Settembre Musica, Torino, the Fromm Music Foundation for clarinetist Richard Stoltzman; the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra; Betty Freeman for the Kronos Quartet; and the Festival d’Automne, Paris, for the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.

Reich’s music has been performed by major orchestras and ensembles around the world, including the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, New York Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta; the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas; The Ensemble Modern, conducted by Bradley Lubman, The Ensemble Intercontemporain, conducted by David Robertson, the London Sinfonnietta, conducted by Markus Stenz and Martyn Brabbins, the Theater of Voices, conducted by Paul Hillier, the Schoenberg Ensemble, conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw, the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Robert Spano; the Saint Louis Symphony, conducted by Leonard Slatkin; the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Neal Stulberg; and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.

Born in New York and raised there and in California, Reich studied philosophy at Cornell University (1953-1957). He then turned to composition, studying with Hall Overton, then with William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti at Juilliard (1958-1961), and finally with Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud at Mills College (1962-1963), where he received his M.A. in music in 1963.

Reich’s early works were created in the early 1960s at the San Francisco Tape Music Center. These tape pieces, such as “It’s Gonna Rain” (1965) and “Come Out” (1966), are the earliest examples of “phasing,” one of Reich’s most well known techniques. In this process, two tape loops are set into motion at two slightly different speeds, so that the tapes begin in unison and slowly shift “out of phase,” creating a new set of harmonies and rhythms. This process was later incorporated into several pieces for traditional acoustic instruments (or instruments and tape), such as in “Piano Phase” (1967) and “Violin Phase” (1967). In addition to the initial process of phasing, Reich also introduces into “Violin Phase” the notion of “found” or “resulting” patterns (new melodic figures created from the overlapping voices of the original “theme”).

This technique was further explored in the largely popular and influential “Drumming” of 1971. In 1970, Reich set out on an intensive study of Ghanaian drumming at the Institute for African Studies at the University of Ghana in Acra, which led to many of the procedures used not only in “Drumming,” but also in much of his career. This piece is an hour-long elaboration of a single rhythmic cell, developed and re-orchestrated through four distinct sections. The piece begins with a slow, additive process of introducing the initial rhythmic pattern. Through phasing procedures and further “build-up and reduction,” new melodic and harmonic patterns are created – these are brought to the fore by doublings, first by female voice, then by whistling, and finally by piccolo.

Reich’s later music is characterized by a considerably faster harmonic rate of change, and by a more diverse (though still strictly diatonic) harmonic language. Reich studied at the American Society for Eastern Arts in Seattle and Berkeley in 1973-74. In the mid to late 1970’s, a series of outside commissions led to several non-percussion works; “Music for 18 Musicians” (1976), “Music for a Large Ensemble” (1978) and “Octet” (1979) all came in this period. From 1976-1977, Reich studied the traditional forms of cantillation (chanting) of the Hebrew scriptures in New York and Jerusalem.

Reich would later return to the ideas first seen in “Violin Phase” in a series of pieces for solo instruments and tape. “Vermont Counterpoint,” for flute, “New York Counterpoint,” for clarinet, and “Electric Counterpoint” for electric guitar build upon the original processes of the early phasing music. The complexity, however, is far deeper than the early phasing pieces: In “Vermont Counterpoint,” for example, a total of ten layers are prerecorded, with the final 11th flute layer played live.

Reich also returned to the voice, as in “Tehillim” (1981), a setting of Psalm texts in Hebrew, “Different Trains” (1988) for string quartet and tape, and in his hugely successful venture into the theater, “The Cave” (1990-1993). Each of these works explores the pitch of taped and sequenced voices, and then uses those pitches as melodic material in the accompanying instrumental ensemble.

For more information, contact Lafayette’s Williams Center for the Arts, (610) 330-5010.

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