Steve Reich’s Traveler’s Prayer Premieres in New York and California
In November, Steve Reich's latest work for ensemble and voices receives its US premiere at Carnegie Hall and west coast premiere at Cal Performances, part of a bi-coastal "Steve Reich Celebration."
Colin Currie Group and Synergy Vocals perform “A Steve Reich Celebration” at Carnegie Hall in New York (Nov 1) and Cal Performances in Berkeley (Nov 3) in a bi-coastal salute to the composer’s 86th birthday. The all-Reich program features the composer’s latest work Traveler’s Prayer for ensemble and voices—receiving its US premiere at Carnegie Hall and West Coast premiere at Cal Performances—alongside two iconic Reich works from the 1970s and ’80s, Tehillim and Music for 18 Musicians.
> Nov 1: “A Steve Reich Celebration” at Carnegie Hall
> Nov 3: “A Steve Reich Celebration” at Cal Performances
Commissioned by NTR ZaterdagMatinee, Southbank Centre, Carnegie Hall, Philharmonie de Paris, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Cal Performances, and Tokyo Opera City Cultural Foundation, Traveler’s Prayer was first premiered by the Colin Currie Group and Synergy Vocals in Amsterdam in 2021, then toured to London, Hamburg, and Paris as part of Reich’s 85th birthday celebrations. (Watch the world premiere performance here.)
For his latest score, Reich turned to Biblical texts usually appended to the traditional “Traveler’s Prayer” found in Hebrew prayer books to craft a deeply spiritual work that deals with mortality and traveling from this world to the next. He explains, “I’m not the first composer who got older and focused on setting Biblical texts. Bach and Stravinsky come to mind, though they (and I myself) set Biblical texts throughout their lives. Thoughts of life and death naturally come to mind as we get older."
Reich, who had begun writing Traveler’s Prayer in 2019, describes how the pandemic changed his view on the work’s themes, expanding from a personal meditation to a way of processing what was happening around the world: “In March 2020, the context of the subject matter shifted. It’s not just me anymore, everybody’s thinking about this. The thrust of the piece shifted to, ‘We’re all in this together.’”
Completed in 2020, Traveler’s Prayer is 16 minutes long, and scored for 11 instrumentalists and four voices. It is a marked departure from Reich’s signature pulse-driven writing style, instead featuring free canons, voices woven together in retrograde and inversion, and notably, no pulse. Reich states: “I found myself doing things I’ve never done before. And at this age, that’s a welcome surprise! By making these very long line free floating canons, you could say the piece is closer to Josquin than Stravinsky.”
The work’s European performances received wide acclaim. The Observer wrote: “Traveler’s Prayer has a quality of serenity … a sense of being suspended in midair, an ancient meditation spun out of looping voices, sustained string chords and the low toll of the piano.” The Evening Standard described its “slowly winding melodies that seemed drawn from a kind of mournful ecstasy,” while The Quietus remarked on the work’s “singular beauty, tinged with melancholy.” The Arts Desk wrote: “This is as untypical as anything I have ever heard by [Reich] … The effect was haunting—maybe not as immediately alluring as, say, Runner, but ultimately more nourishing.”
One of the most important champions of Reich’s work, percussionist Colin Currie has premiered and recorded Reich’s Quartet, and released recordings of Pulse and Drumming with the Colin Currie Group. In 2018, Reich invited Currie to Paris to collaborate in a festival of his music, with a live recording from the Fondation Louis Vuitton.
Currie writes: “Steve Reich is a musical colossus. Of immeasurable influence on music’s development for over six decades, his output inspires, challenges, and above all captivates. This group celebrates all that Reich has achieved: his legacy to music of such incredible width and unequalled originality. We salute and cherish him, and relish bringing it all to life in concert.”
Reich, a New York fixture, will also be featured on October 29-30 during Lincoln Center’s Open House Weekend, celebrating the newly re-opened David Geffen Hall. Lincoln Center has commissioned for the occasion a special multi-media installation of Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint, featuring the clarinet players of the New York Philharmonic, The Metropolitan Opera, The Juilliard School, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Tuesday, November 1, 2022 at 8pm ET
Carnegie Hall, New York
Thursday, November 3, 2022 at 7:30pm PT
Cal Performances, Berkeley
A Steve Reich Celebration
Colin Currie Group
Colin Currie, Artistic Director and Conductor
Micaela Haslam, Director
ALL-STEVE REICH PROGRAM
Music for 18 Musicians
> Further information on Work: Traveler's Prayer
Photo: Jeffrey Herman