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!
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • 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.