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Riley set stage for New Age

The London Times called Terry Riley one of the 1,000 makers of the 20th century. Riley is regarded as the father of the minimalist movement with his “IN C” from 1964, which set the stage for the New Age movement that emerged a decade or so later. He is also recognized for bringing Eastern Indian music to Western audiences beginning in the ’70s.

“I work hard,” Riley, 67, explained. “I spend all my time in the studio. Over 45 years, I’ve just accumulated a lot of stuff. It keeps coming out. I’m just thankful.”

Riley began violin lessons when he was 4 and added piano lessons when he was 8. He earned a master’s degree in composition from the University of California at Berkeley in 1962.



Riley has simultaneously performed, composed, and taught music throughout the United States and abroad. Today, he spends half the year working in his Camptonville home studio and the other half touring.

He’s hard pressed to categorize his work.




“My guess is as good as yours,” he said. “If I start classifying myself, there are limitations. People connect me with Indian, jazz, improvisation, and yes, I’ve done all that. But it’s pretty hard to nail down an area. One of the gifts I have is to realize my music in different forms.”

Music critics and fans call him a legend.

“Its gratifying in some ways. Other ways, it’s an illusion because it’s what others think,” Riley said. “But it’s nice to be recognized, especially when your music is not in the mainstream. To continue working and making a living in music is very satisfying.”

Two months ago, guitarist Pete Townsend acknowledged audience member Riley from the stage at a Who concert at the Autowest Amphitheatre in Marysville.

“Pete Townsend announced I was there and told everyone to go out and buy my records,” Riley said with a chuckle. He first met the Who members when the band and he were featured acts at the Summer Olympics in Munich in 1972. The song “Baba O’Riley” on the “Who’s Next” CD honors Riley and the late Indian mystic Meher Baba.

Riley’s”Salome Dances for Peace” (1989) was selected as the No. 1 classical album of the year by USA Today and nominated for a Grammy. His “Cadenza on the Night Plain” (1985) was chosen by Time and Newsweek as one of the 10 best classical albums of the year.

His first orchestral piece, “Jade Palace,” commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the Centennial Celebration in 1990-1991, was premiered by Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony.

“He’s as real as they get. In addition, his sense of what’s right and what’s wrong has informed all his works,” said David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet. “For Terry, music is such a central part of life, an expression of the best part of humanity.”

Santa Monica film director Cecilia Miniucchi is in the final editing stage of an independent feature-length documentary on Riley’s life and career.

“I love his music. Terry has been the most important, influential composer in the widest range of genres. Even the raves go back to Terry; they play his music,” said Miniucchi.

Her documentary includes commentary by musicians Townsend, John Cale, Philip Glass, Steve Reich and the Kronos Quartet.

Miniucchi said, “Terry brings not only the professional music side, but also an enormous spiritual side that enriches all of us, with his peaceful view of the world and how it should all be.

“Terry’s a constant reassurance to all of us. Especially right now, as this world needs peace, he’s active as a world citizen who transcends all the boundaries for peace.”

Another documentary, “Musical Outsiders: An American Legacy” by Michael Blackwood, is about Riley, Lou Harrison and Harry Partch.

Riley is finishing “Atlantis Nath,” his first CD released almost two months ago on his new Sri Moonshine Studios label. The CD is a tribute to Riley’s teacher, the late North Indian raga vocalist Pandit Pran Nath.

“My wife and I stuff the CDs,” Riley said, “and the grandkids from Richmond sometimes come up and help us.”

The signed, limited edition CD of 1,000 can be found through Riley’s Web site at http://www.terryriley.com. Area Gigs: Nevada County residents can catch Terry Riley performing in his hometown area three times this year: € Oct. 2 ‹ Riley will participate in A.W.A.K.E., a 12-hour peaceful vigil combining music, dance and the spoken word at Miners Foundry Cultural Center in Nevada City. – Nov. 15 ‹ Gyan Riley on classical guitar and Riley on piano perform a Music in the Mountains concert at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley. € Nov. 17 ‹ Riley and the All-Stars close the Festival of New Music at the Crest Theater in downtown Sacramento.


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