At 80, Terry Riley is a happy man
By Joshua Kosman Updated 12:54 pm, Monday, June 22, 2015
The prolific and influential composer-performer turns 80 on Wednesday, a milestone that will be celebrated this weekend with a three-concert series by his longtime collaborators, the Kronos Quartet. And in addition to his artistic legacy — a long and varied creative record that includes some of the most notable works in the history of minimalism and post-minimalism — Riley must hold some kind of record as the happiest and least stress-afflicted musician now working.
He began as a neo-classicist, writing short pieces in imitation of Milhaud and Poulenc, as well as a jazz pianist. Then Young, whom he met at UC Berkeley in the ’50s, drew him into the world of experimentalism — a chapter that led to the 1964 creation of “In C,” the masterpiece of structured freedom that remains his best-known work. Throughout the late 1960s and ’70s, Riley immersed himself in musical improvisation, producing such groundbreaking albums as “Rainbow in Curved Air” but not writing anything down. (“During that decade, you won’t find any notes from me,” he says, “but a lot of music.”) He also became an adept at Indian music, studying with the Indian singer Pandit Pran Nath.
Perhaps his most long-standing commitment has been to his collaboration with Kronos, for which he has written more than a dozen quartets. It was the group’s founder and artistic director, David Harrington, who put Riley back on the path of notating music.
Terry Riley and Harry Partch both were born on June 24.
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