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Articles & Interviews

These Symphony-commissioned feature articles offer insights into the music you'll hear in the concert hall. We hope you'll find them provocative and entertaining.

Aug 23, 2016

Always provocative and eternally new: Steve Reich

Watch MTT and Steve Reich recall one of their first concerts together.

You can't help but react to the music of Steve Reich.

See for yourself as we kick off the season with celebrations of Reich on two concerts: MTT conducts Reich and Copland and Steve Reich: An American Maverick.

But this is nothing new. When Michael Tilson Thomas and the Boston Symphony Orchestra performed Steve Reich’s Four Organs at Carnegie Hall the crowd went wild. So wild that some stories recount an elderly woman banging her shoe on the stage to get the performers to stop playing.

It was 1973 and musical minimalism was already a well-established genre, but Reich’s piece struck a chord. In fact, it struck the same chord for fifteen minutes straight. MTT recalls that at the end of the work there was “an explosion of boos, catcalls, and epithets along with a few lusty cheers.”

But despite the audience’s misgivings, MTT was not worried. He said to Reich, “Nothing like this has happened since the premiere of The Rite of Spring. By tomorrow everyone in the music world will know about your music.” And indeed, he was right.

Inspiring other paradigm shifting musicians such as Mason Bates, Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens, Stephen Sondheim, and generations of DJs and electronic musicians, Steve Reich’s legacy reflects what MTT calls “a lifetime of inspiration and determination.”

Composer Steve ReichComposer Steve Reich

Now old friends, MTT, the San Francisco Symphony, and Reich will celebrate many decades of musical innovation and rebellion, not to mention Reich’s 80th birthday, on three concerts this September: the Opening Night Gala, MTT conducts Reich and Copland, and Steve Reich: An American Maverick.

With musical appearances by Eighth Blackbird, Kronos Quartet, guitarist Derek Johnson, and students from the SF Conservatory, these San Francisco Symphony performances highlight Reich’s vast musical influence and of course, his longstanding friendship with MTT.

Opening the season with concerts dedicated to Reich is a testament to MTT’s commitment to those composers who are, by all means, mavericks. Although the Avant-Garde period is a thing of the past, Reich’s music remains, as MTT puts it, “both beautiful and confrontational.”

This season, hear the music that made some boo, others cheer, and everyone listen.