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Final Bach, Revisited concert features Steve Reich

Composer Steve Reich
Composer Steve Reich
Jeffrey Herman

Columbia University's Miller Theater concludes its series of "Bach, Revisited" concerts Thursday, with music by Bach paired with that of Steve Reich, a titan of contemporary classical music. In two previous concerts featuring Bach works alongside those of living composers, the Miller, whose executive director is Melissa Smey, presented works by and discussions with Joan Tower and ​Kaija Saariaho.

The two works on the upcoming program are Bach's "Christ lag in Todes Banden" and Reich's "Tehillim," composed in 1981. They will be performed by the well-known contemporary chamber group Ensemble Signal, conducted by Brad Lubman, along with six guest vocalists. An organization that performs and records widely, Signal currently is involved in the co-commission of a new work by Reich.

In February, the composer, considered a founder of minimalism, won the $550,000 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award for contemporary composition. (The foundation is linked to a financial services company in Spain.) Reich has won numerous international and U.S. awards, including the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for music. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1994.

This concert marks the finale of the 25th anniversary season of music at Miller Theater. It is located at 116th St. and Broadway on the ground floor of Columbia's Dodge Hall. There will be a benefit Spring Soirée for the Miller on May 13.

Reich, 77, is scheduled to participate in an onstage talk with Smey as part of the program. In a video interview, Reich said that he agreed to participate with the understanding that "Tehillim" would be played, because it "was a piece where I actually consulted Bach directly." Calling Bach "the greatest composer who ever lived," Reich said that "Tehillim," a setting of Hebrew Psalms, was inspired by the Bach cantata.

According to Reich, the work is "not a chorus, it's solo voices,” and it is written for a small instrumental grouping - which is "exactly what you find in Bach." Moreover, he said he tended to have "an aversion" to opera singers performing his work, preferring singers with less vibrato who specialize in Bach, Renaissance or other early music. One of the guest singers, soprano Caroline Shaw, was herself the winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for music for her "Partita for 8 Voices."

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