2016 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition

Steve Reich

2016 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition

Steve Reich

For his wide-reaching impact on contemporary musical composition, particularly through his use of human voices and speech to produce material for musical instruments.

Official press release

Steve Reich's musical compositions feature influences from both Western classical music and the structures, harmonies, and rhythms of non-Western and American vernacular music, particularly jazz -- from his early taped speech pieces “It’s Gonna Rain” (1965) and “Come Out” (1966) -- to his digital video operas, “The Cave” (1993) and “Three Tales” (2002) with video artist Beryl Korot. His pioneering of new and creative uses of audio influences including phasing, historical and cultural influences, and human voices and speech throughout his career has led to The New York Times' recent claims that Reich is "our greatest living composer."

Reich was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his composition “Double Sextet.” He previously received both the Polar Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and the Japanese Praemium Imperiale Award in Music. He received his first Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Composition for “Different Trains,” as recorded by the Kronos Quartet in 1990. “Different Trains” marked a new compositional method, rooted in “It’s Gonna Rain” and “Come Out,” in which speech recordings generate the musical material for musical instruments. He won a second Grammy Award in 1999 for his piece “Music for 18 Musicians." In 2000, Reich was awarded the Schuman Prize from Columbia University, the Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College, the Regent’s Lectureship at the University of California at Berkeley, and an honorary doctorate from the California Institute of the Arts. He was named Composer of the Year by Musical America magazine. In 2006, he was awarded membership in the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, and, in 2007, he received the Chubb Fellowship at Yale University. In 2008, Reich was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.

Reich’s music has been performed by major orchestras and ensembles around the world, including the London Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, London Sinfonietta, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra and many others. 

Carnegie Hall will celebrate Reich’s 80th birthday Nov. 1, 2016, in Stern Auditorium with an all-Reich program featuring performances by ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble), So Percussion and Synergy Vocals and the world premiere of “Pulse,” a work co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall. Reich holds the 2016-17 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall.

Born in New York and raised there and in California, Mr. Reich graduated with honors in philosophy from Cornell University in 1957. For the next two years, he studied composition with Hall Overton, and from 1958 to 1961 he studied at the Juilliard School of Music with William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti. Mr. Reich received his M.A. in Music from Mills College in 1963, where he worked with Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud.

Reich's two Bienen School of Music residencies as the 2016 winner, planned during the next two academic years in February and November 2017, will feature three concerts of his music performed by the Bienen School’s Contemporary Music Ensemble (CME)Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble (BCE) and Percussion Ensemble. Reich also will engage in other activities, such as coaching student ensembles, meeting with student composers and participating in moderated discussions.

“I am delighted and honored to receive the 2016 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition from Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music,” Reich said. “It is particularly gratifying to be honored in this way by a school of music that demonstrates such passionate commitment to the study, composition and performance of new music. I look forward to my two residencies at Northwestern for concerts of my music in 2017."

Past winners of the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition are: Esa-Pekka Salonen (2014), Aaron Jay Kernis (2012), John Luther Adams (2010), Kaija Saariaho (2008), Oliver Knussen (2006) and John Adams (2004).