Seminal composer-pianist Terry Riley and his virtuoso guitarist son Gyan pair up for a rare intimate performance
Often mentioned along with contemporaries Steve Reich, La Monte Young or Philip Glass, American minimalist composer -Terry Riley holds pride of place as a pioneer of 20th-century music. From its first performance back in 1964, his driving, methodical work In C commanded attention, emerging from a single motif that seemed to be born of itself. This early masterpiece, which earned “minimalism” its name, was the nascent movement’s first truly successful work.
Riley traveled widely, absorbing the influences of European jazz and Indian raga and inspired others in turn, from The Soft Machine to Mike Oldfield and even The Who; Pete Townshend immortalized him in their song Baba O’Riley. By the late 1970s he began collaborating with the famed Kronos Quartet, for whom he wrote dozens of pieces that have since entered the repertoire.
Where Riley set himself apart, however, was his ease in transitioning from solo keyboard gigs in basement clubs to filling concert halls with his works for strings. To this day, Riley is as much a master of improvisation as a pioneering composer.
Now 81, Riley performs regularly with his son Gyan, a notable guitar virtuoso and composer in his own right, with an impressive range of collaborations to his credit and in 2013, a well-received solo album on John Zorn’s label Tzadik. As a duo, Riley pére et fils improvise freely on keyboards and guitars, departing from the overlapping loops and complex, interlocking ensemble pieces they are known for. Rather than charting new ground, it could be better described as back to basics: Terry Riley long supported himself with piano gigs, before moving on to host legendary all-night harmonium jams in the 1970s. He has played with several jazz legends, including Chet Baker (1963), and in a particularly celebrated performance, with fusion pioneer Don Cherry (1975).
The evening at Porgy & Bess offers a rare chance to see and hear a ground-breaking 20th-century composer in an intimate setting, and perhaps even rarer: a father-and-son collaboration. Gyan Riley’s fast-paced, impetuous approach to the guitar – from Spanish classical music to Indian raga, easily snatching from as many traditions as his father – is an apt foil for Riley the elder’s more pensive style on the keyboards. Leading and playing off each other as they go, it’s a family conversation set in sound.
May 27, 20:30, Porgy & Bess.