Works performed by Earplay:

String Trio

Terry Riley (b. 1935) is an American composer and performing musician and a pioneer of the minimalist school of Western classical music. His work has been deeply influenced by both jazz and Indian classical music.

Born in Colfax, California, Riley studied at Shasta College, San Francisco State University, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music before earning an M.A. in composition at the University of California, Berkeley, studying with Seymour Shifrin and Robert Erickson. He was involved in the experimental San Francisco Tape Music Center, working with Morton Subotnick, Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros, and Ramon Sender. His most influential teacher was Pandit Pran Nath, a master of Indian classical voice. Riley made numerous trips to India over the course of their association to study and to accompany Pran Nath on tabla, tambura, and voice. Throughout the 1960s he traveled frequently around Europe as well, taking in musical influences and supporting himself by playing in piano bars. He joined the Mills College faculty in 1971 to teach Indian classical music. Riley was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Music by Chapman University in 2007.

Riley cites John Cage and "the really great chamber music groups of John Coltrane and Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans, and Gil Evans" as influences on his work, demonstrating how he pulled together strands of Eastern music, the Western avant-garde, and jazz.

Riley's collaborators have included the Rova Saxophone Quartet, Pauline Oliveros, the ARTE Quartett, and the Kronos Quartet. Riley began his long-lasting association with Kronos when he met founder David Harrington while at Mills. Over the course of his career, Riley composed 13 string quartets for the ensemble, in addition to other works. He wrote his first orchestral piece, Jade Palace, in 1991, and has continued to pursue that avenue, with several commissioned orchestral compositions following. Riley currently performs and teaches both as a classical Indian vocalist and as a solo pianist.

Riley's music is usually based on improvising through a series of modal figures of different lengths, as in In C (1964) and the Keyboard Studies. In the 1950s he was already working with tape loops, a technology then in its infancy, and he has continued manipulating tapes to musical effect, both in the studio and in live performance, throughout his career. His famous overdubbed electronic album A Rainbow in Curved Air (released in 1969) inspired many later developments in electronic music. Riley has composed in just intonation as well as microtonal pieces.

[from program for March 16, 2015 concert]