Reich’s new work for large ensemble with voices premieres this fall with the New York Philharmonic, joined by Synergy Vocals. The work travels to Paris in February, presented as part of a major retrospective of the composer’s music at Festival Présences 2024.
On October 5-7, Steve Reich unveils Jacob’s Ladder, a new work for large ensemble and singers inspired by Biblical texts, performed by the New York Philharmonic and Synergy Vocals, conducted by Jaap van Zweden. The work—co-commissioned by the New York Philharmonic (Jaap van Zweden, Music Director), BBC Radio 3, Fundação Casa da Música, Istanbul Music Festival and Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra, Queen Silvia Concert Hall and O/Modernt, Radio France, and Vancouver Symphony Orchestra—travels to Paris on February 6, part of a weeklong retrospective of the composer’s music at Festival Présences 2024.
> Oct 5-7: Steve Reich, Jacob’s Ladder (World Premiere)
With Jacob’s Ladder, Reich once again turns to the Hebrew Scriptures for inspiration, as in recent works such as Traveler’s Prayer and older works like Tehillim. This latest piece sets Genesis 28:12, describing a vision presented to the Biblical patriarch Jacob:
And he dreamed,
and behold a ladder set up on the Earth,
and its top reached heaven,
and behold messengers of G-d ascending and descending on it.
“Jacob's Ladder cries out for commentary. The imagery is compelling yet wide open. William Blake drew it as a winding staircase; you can see ladders all over Bruegel's ‘Tower of Babel.’ There are mysterious ladders in late Philip Guston paintings. There are all kinds of interpretations of ladders. Powerful images originate from everyday objects and radiate out to infinity.”
> Read our interview with Steve Reich on Jacob’s Ladder
The piece—approximately 20 minutes long and scored for large ensemble plus two sopranos and two tenors—is structured as four short sections (setting each of the four lines of text), followed by four longer sections elaborating on and developing the first four. Reich uses the imagery of the ladder rather freely to inspire melodic movement, largely driven by the instrumental parts.
“In Jacob's Ladder, there's somewhat more instrumental music than vocal music. It became clear right from the start that I was going to give free rein to the instruments. The instrumental music interprets the movement of messenger/angels going up, down, or pausing on a ladder (or ladders) between heaven and earth; a musical interpretation without words. Nevertheless, in the final section, when the constant 16th-note pulse slows to eighths and finally to quarters, the voices and instruments together broaden out to a still, held point at the end.”
The composer also indicates a connection between this work and his previous piece, Traveler’s Prayer, composed in 2020: “Traveler’s Prayer and Jacob’s Ladder are related pieces—they're representative of this period in my life.” Traveler’s Prayer, a deeply spiritual work that deals with mortality and traveling from this world to the next, was praised by The New York Times as “a work of remarkable economy and restraint … as wisely beautiful and spare as anything in Beethoven’s late quartets”; the Los Angeles Times proclaimed, “The tone of the score, from first note to last, is sustained sublimity.”
The world premiere of Jacob's Ladder in October is presented as part of the New York Philharmonic’s celebration of Jaap van Zweden during his final season as music director, featuring works by composers the conductor championed over the course of his tenure. In 2019, van Zweden led the acclaimed New York premiere of Reich’s Music for Ensemble and Orchestra, which The New York Times praised as “[having] intense power.”
The European premiere of Jacob’s Ladder will take place at Maison de la Radio et de la Musique in Paris, performed by Ensemble intercontemporain and Synergy Vocals, led by George Jackson. The piece will be the cornerstone of a major retrospective of Reich’s music, presented as part of Festival Présences 2024 from Feb 5-11. During the week, his music will be featured across 12 events, with performances by Ensemble intercontemporain, Synergy Vocals, Colin Currie Group, Roomful of Teeth, Orchestre National de France, and more. The Hallé in Manchester will also present a three-concert Reich festival, including a performance of Electric Counterpoint by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood (Feb 1-3).
Thursday, October 5 at 7:30pm ET
Friday, October 6 at 8pm ET
Saturday, October 7 at 8pm ET
Wu Tsai Theater, David Geffen Hall | New York, NY
New York Philharmonic
Leif Ove Andsnes
Jaap van Zweden
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor”
STEVE REICH Jacob’s Ladder (World Premiere)
SCHUBERT Symphony in B Minor, “Unfinished”
> Further information on Work: Jacob's Ladder
Photo: Kevin Leighton
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