Bintel Blog

Steve Reich's Pulitzer-Winning 'Double Sextet'

By Sarah Kessler

  • Print
  • Share Share

Ehmor m’aht, v’ahsay harbay — Say little and do much,” the fourth movement from composer Steve Reich’s “You Are (Variations)” 2004 ensemble piece is a pithy explanation of the style that first brought him attention, Grammy Awards in 1990 and 1999, and, this week, the 2009 Pulitzer prize for music.

His innovative use of dialogue snippets, stripped to potency, re-recorded, and looped around each other, made Reich a pioneer of minimalist music in the 1960s. Over the decades his continuous engagement with different musical forms of expression — from African drumming in Ghana, to traditional scriptural cantillation in Jerusalem, inspired The New York Times to name him “…among the great composers of the century.”

The Pulitzer-winning “Double Sextet,” commissioned by the Grammy-award winning sextet, eighth blackbird, (named for a Wallace Stevens poem, and intentionally lower case), was called “a major work” by the Pulitzer committee, who awarded it the $10,000 prize. The composition — for 12 instruments, two each of violin, cello, piano, vibraphone, clarinet, flute (or six, plus a pre-recorded tape for a sextet to play against their own recording) — debuted March 26th of last year, in Virginia.

“[It] displays an ability to channel an initial burst of energy into a large-scale musical event, built with masterful control and consistently intriguing to the ear,” announced the committee of five, chaired by John Schaefer of WNYC Radio, and which included past Pulitzer-winner Justin Davidson of New York Magazine.

In the 1980s Reich’s work began engaging more directly with his Jewish heritage. The framework from biblical cantillation crept in, melodies hung together from pre-existing patterns like a musical string of beads. His 1981 “Tehillim” (Hebrew for “psalms”) dealt explicitly with Hebrew texts: “There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun” (Psalms 19:2-5).

“Different Trains,” in 1988 went further in technique and in intensity; it uses speech recordings to generate musical material for the instruments, and compares Reich’s childhood memories of train journeys between New York and California with trains that were, at the same time, transporting European children to Nazi death camps.

In 2006, the music world celebrated Reich’s 70th birthday with a regal schedule of celebratory events at New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Roll on another party…

There’s a Youtube clip of the eighth blackbird rehearsing some of “Double Sextet” last year:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Pulitzer Prize, Double Sextet, Eighth Blackbird, Steve Reich

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.