This summer, Lincoln Center Festival presents Reich/Reverberations (July 16–21), a three-part series dedicated to the pioneering music of Steve Reich. For this curated playlist, we invited artists—including composers, conductors, instrumentalists, vocalists, choreographers, and dancers—to share their most memorable encounters with Reich’s music. Taken together, their commentary and the music underscore Reich’s position as a galvanizing aesthetic force whose revolutionary musical ideas continue to reverberate across the world.


It’s Gonna Rain (1965)

David Lang
Composer
“The first piece I ever heard of Steve's was It's Gonna Rain. I was working as the classical music stock boy in a record store in Los Angeles. I was 16. I would automatically pick up any recording of contemporary music that came into the store's remainder bin. One day an album of a violin in a rainstorm came in, by this guy I never heard of before—STEVE REICH. I think it had been remaindered for 25 cents.

Forty-three years later I am still knocked out by it and it is still the piece of Steve's that has had the biggest impact on me. Applying a process to source material, which then creates all melody and harmony and texture and rhythm and pacing and drama in its wake, is still a mind-blowing idea.”

David Robertson
Conductor (Music Director/St. Louis Symphony, Chief Conductor/Sydney Symphony Orchestra)
It's Gonna Rain is what really shows the foundation of Steve's genius at its most pure. After his music, you don't perceive reality in the same way ever again."

"After his music, you don't perceive reality in the same way ever again."

Come Out (1966)

Anna Thorvaldsdottir
Composer 
“The first piece I heard was Come Out and it was a deeply moving experience. I heard it when I was starting to get to know more recent music after having primarily studied older music playing the cello. I absolutely loved the way it was composed and how the motif started with a single voice and gradually morphed into the texture of sounds. At that time I had never heard anything like it. It was one of those pieces that got me curious and excited about contemporary music and ways to experiment with various aspects of music creation.” 


Piano Phase (1967)

Nico Muhly
Composer
“The first time I ever performed a Steve Reich piece I recorded myself playing the stable part of Piano Phase on a cassette recorder, and played against it merrily."


Trailer for Fase
A film by Thierry De Mey (58 min.) 2002
Choreography: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker

"One of the most direct invitations to dance and to choreograph that I had ever come across.”

Violin Phase (1967)

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
Choreographer
“I made one of my very first choreographies to this music. It struck me as one of the most direct invitations to dance and to choreograph that I had ever come across.” 


Drumming (1971)

Adam Sliwinski
Percussionist (Sō Percussion)

“I think of Drumming as part masterwork, part conceptual art. The genius of the piece isn’t only in the decisions that the composer made, but in the balance between the craftsmanship and the huge range of what can still change in each performance. Phasing isn’t only an idea: It’s a process that you can enact over and over again and still find fascinating. Each new pattern that results after a phase has so many possibilities embedded within it. I could honestly play Drumming every day of my life and never get sick of it. For me, this is precisely because I’m not only hearing the composer’s ideas, but also the larger concept of what’s possible within the system he created.”

"I could honestly play Drumming every day of my life and never get sick of it."

 

David T. Little
Composer
"Drumming, Part 1 was the first piece I ever heard--probably in 1995 or so--on Talujon's recording Hum. I remember being mesmerized. First, by its initial groove--very solid, assured and grounded. And then in contrast, by that special vertigo created during the phasing; how one's sense of gravity is upended in a marvelous sonic weightlessness, and how when the phasing completes, you crash back to earth. It's like nothing else."

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
Choreographer
“The first piece I ever heard was Drumming. Somebody gave me the Deutsche Grammophon record. It caught me right away.” 


Clapping Music (1972)

Dai Fujikura
Composer
“With no instruments, this piece really goes back to the basics. People in the Stone Age could have performed it as the only thing it requires is their hands. Yet it is a very intellectual piece, with all of the rhythms worked out mathematically. It’s this duality that really attracted me to it: On the one hand we have the most basic technique to make sound. But on the other hand, we have a highly complex structure. I think that this piece could not have been composed in Europe, where a composer was expected to highlight the virtuosity of instrumental playing. To me, this work is wonderfully American, and could only have be written in the land where composers felt free from the classical music tradition.”

David T. Little
Composer
"I programmed Clapping Music on a recital in college. My teacher had weirdly conservative taste for a percussionist, and even then--in 2000 or so--felt that Reich was too radical to be respectable. So I had to sneak it on the program as an 'impromptu' encore. Playing it felt like a kind of youthful victory over my teacher's old ideas!"

Marcos Balter
Composer 
“I participated in a performance of Clapping Music that Mark Morris put together at Tanglewood, with dancers and musicians as performers. I remember the musicians teaching the dancers the old ‘strawberRy-cheeseCAke-TAStes-so GOOD’ mnemonic for the main rhythmic cell. It worked beautifully. They got it right away, and the performance was flawless.” 

Kevin McFarland
Cellist (JACK Quartet
“The first time I ever ‘performed’ a Steve Reich piece was Clapping Music in my dorm room with my percussionist roommate freshman year at Eastman!”


Music for Pieces of Wood (1973)

David Robertson
Conductor (Music Director/St. Louis Symphony, Chief Conductor/Sydney Symphony Orchestra)
“The first Reich work I played was Music for Pieces of Wood; we did a performance with the Ensemble Intercontemporain in the early ‘90s and I got to play along with those amazing percussionists. I loved the precision and how much musical grace was expressed in a ‘you may not make a mistake’ way!”

Caroline Shaw
Composer, singer (Roomful of Teeth), violinist (ACME)
“I did a couple of DJ shifts each week at my college radio station, KTRU. That was where I discovered a lot of new music and I found Music for Pieces of Wood on the shelf one afternoon. I loved it, but I'm not sure it was exactly the most radio-friendly tune!”

 

Lincoln Center Offstage: Sō Percussion performs Music for Pieces of Wood at Makewell Studio in Brooklyn.


Six Pianos (1973)

Marco Balter
Composer
“I was four years old and I saw a performance of Six Pianos on TV in Brazil, my native country. I was transfixed. They interviewed Reich, who talked about the creation of the work, and I immediately thought ‘THAT is what I want to do when I grow up.’ I never looked back.” 


Music for 18 Musicians (1976)

Brad Lubman

Conductor, Co-Artistic Director & Music Director of Ensemble Signal 
“The first Steve Reich piece I ever heard was Music for 18 Musicians (the ECM recording with the Steve Reich Ensemble). It had an enormous impact on me, similar to the impact that Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 had on me earlier in my life.”

Marcos Balter
Composer
Music for 18 Musicians was a game-changer for me; it taught me that sound color and texture could be primary elements of musical discourse rather than subservient to melody and harmony. I always loved composers that paid special attention to unusual blends of sounds, like Ravel or Mahler. While Music for 18 Musicians comes from that same sort of sensibility, it also breaks away from traditional Western models in which color is usually an accessory rather than the true subject.”

 

Nico Muhly
Composer
“I’m not sure I’ve ever been so transported by a piece: Right from the first bars, I felt like I’d entered a whole different economy of how timbre could be luxurious and precise at the same time. While the structure of the piece is simple (a series of chords, with each one the subject of a zoomed-in rhythmic process), the cumulative effect is symphonic and rich, but with visible structure."

I’m not sure I’ve ever been so transported by a piece.

Caroline Shaw
Composer, singer (Roomful of Teeth), violinist (ACME)
Music for 18 Musicians has had the biggest impact on me of any Reich piece. I am still discovering why each time. I'll get back to you on that in a few decades.”

Justin Peck
New York City Ballet Resident Choreographer and Soloist
“I heard Music for 18 Musicians live in Paris. It was the accompaniment to a performance of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Rain at Paris Opera Ballet. The music felt so cathartic, like a complete life cycle—ever shifting, profound, and totally beautiful.” 

Lauren Radnofsky
Cellist, Co-Artistic/Executive Director of Ensemble Signal 
“A performance I recall particularly vividly is Music for 18 Musicians performed by Steve Reich and Musicians in 2006. It was the first time I’d heard the piece live and it changed me forever. Performing, producing, and listening to Steve’s music, and working with Steve is one of the greatest joys in my life. At a performance of Music for 18, I always feel that the audience and the performers experience something very moving and special, almost magical. This is certainly true for Ensemble Signal! It’s a piece that for me embodies the life changing power of art, a piece that represents the greatest part of being human.”


Tehillim (1981)

David T. Little
Composer
"Tehillim. Without question. From the very first hearing, I was hooked: that groove, those chords, those mixed-meter canons! Still, nearly 20 years after my first hearing, it remains one of my all-time favorite pieces. Extremely deep--and for me, extremely moving--it engages with the sacred in such a personal way, with both solemnity and joy, looking ever-upward!  It's an absolute masterpiece."

Nico Muhly
Composer
“I spend a lot of time thinking about how Psalms are intoned, particularly in the Anglican tradition from which so much of my music is derived. Reich’s setting of Psalm 150 is ecstatic, evocative, modern and ancient at once, with electric organs joining instruments described by the psalmist. I can’t get enough of it.”


Octet (Eight Lines) (1983)

Stephen Sondheim
Composer
"[Octet] was the first piece of his I ever heard. I was knocked out. And I’ll take credit for this: I immediately went to Jerry [Jerome] Robbins and said ‘You’ve got to make a ballet out of this’ and he did!"

Nico Muhly
Composer
“I think about his Octet (Eight Lines) almost every day. There is something so alluring about that piece, and just when you think you’re about to settle into the interlocking textures, a flute melody comes in of such sweet simplicity—it reminds me of an exploded version of the flute solo in the second movement of Ravel’s piano concerto.”


Different Trains (1988)

Kevin McFarland
Cellist (JACK Quartet) 
“My dad picked up the Different Trains album in the late ’80s. My appreciation for the piece has only grown over the years. When I was younger, I found the surface and the structure appealing: how one motif can underpin an entire work and still maintain interest through continual variation. I thought the pitches being brought out of the text by the strings was a really cool effect too. But it’s what this piece deals with emotionally, historically, and interpersonally has really deepened the work's value for me over the years. What it means to contemplate something as vast and terrible as the Holocaust from varying distances. How things as direct as quotations from survivors become indirect as musical objects. The way entire cultures look at the horror of it obliquely, wanting to face it directly but at the same time maintaining a defensive distance. The work is an examination not just of a time in history, but an examination of how we remember it, and how crucial this remembrance is in the transition from lived truths to historical document. As the work ages, more and more we are hearing voices from the past, we are remembering what it means to remember. It's amazing to me that a piece of music can accomplish this. This summer will be my first performance of Different Trains, so it is all coming full circle.”


The Cave (1993)


Nico Muhly
Composer
“It’s a complicated, multi-act piece of music theater, and after a lot of fragmented and channel-surfing use of found text, the piece ends with a sequence of gorgeous, almost Brahmsian melodies. The image is of Abraham chasing a cow into a cave and discovering there ‘Adam and Eve on their biers, and they slept, and lights were kindled above them and a sweet smell was upon them.’ It’s a moment of outrageous lyrical simplicity with a maximum of emotional effect, and distils, in a sense, Reich’s extraordinary storytelling ability. I think about this every time I write music for voices.”


Proverb (1995)


Caroline Shaw
Composer, singer (Roomful of Teeth), violinist (ACME)
“I remember the perfect simplicity of the phrase, ‘How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life.’ I loved the shape of the melody, and how we singers just kept wrapping around each other's voices with this gorgeous line.” 


Mallet Quartet (2009)

Adam Sliwinski
Percussionist (Sō Percussion)
“Steve Reich wrote Mallet Quartet for a consortium of four groups. Since I knew Steve pretty well, I approached him about the new work, offering to help in any way possible. I expected him to say something along the lines of ‘I’ve been writing percussion music since your parents bought their first Beatles record, I’m good,’ but actually he jumped on my offer. He told me that he had never written for five-octave marimba, and he’d love to experiment with it. He and I went back and forth over email, cycling through several drafts while he fiddled with voicing and textural ideas. I was impressed with how he used his ears to determine what was working and what wasn’t. The resulting low marimba part in the final piece reflects this care, with beautifully voiced open chords.”


Listen to the Full Playlist

BONUS VIDEO: 
Lincoln Center's American Songbook presents
Reich and Sondheim: In Conversation and Performance
Filmed on January 31, 2015