Steve Reich on Composing Music in Self-Isolation

Steve Reich in New York City

In the wake of COVID-19, many have found this period of self-isolation and social distancing to be particularly difficult to cope with. However, many musicians have taken this period of solitude to invest themselves heavily into recording new albums, learning new instruments, or expanding their repertoire. And in the classical music world, that same method thinking is being applied both by amateur musicians and noteworthy composers like Steve Reich.

Stephen Michael Reich is an American composer known for his contribution to the development of minimal music in the mid to late 1960s. Reich’s work is marked by its use of repetitive figures, slow harmonic rhythm, and canons. His compositions include groundbreaking experimental pieces like “4’33”, “The Cave” and, “Clapping Music.” Now, Reich is composing a new work titled, “Travel Prayer” from his home in Los Angeles.

When asked if the pandemic had dramatically affected his writing process, he says, “…This romantic idea that where you are affects what you write, I find that to be completely not the case. And so in this period of time I’ve been working on what I was working on before I got here: a piece called Traveler’s Prayer, which is a piece for four voices, two tenors and two sopranos; eight strings, two string quartets; and one piano and two vibes.

First off, I was having a discussion with someone in Sweden and he told me that he’d recently seen a cartoon, and the first panel drawing said, “Composer at work,” and the second panel said “Composer at work in quarantine.” And the two panels were identical. And I think that’s the truth. [Laughs.] It’s a solitary thing, right?”

Steve Reich’s Traveler’s Prayer will premiere in the fall of 2021. Lincoln Center recently included a video from Reich/Reverberations, its 2016 celebration of Steve Reich, in its Lincoln Center At Home series. You can stream the video on YouTube.

If you would like to learn more about Steve Reich’s oeuvre of music, we encourage you to watch the following interview with the composer: