Composer and performer Terry Riley is one of the founders of music’s Minimalist movement. His early works, notably In C (1964), pioneered a form in Western music based on structured interlocking repetitive patterns. The influence of Riley’s hypnotic, multi-layered, polymetric, brightly orchestrated Eastern-flavored improvisations and compositions is heard across the span of contemporary and popular music.
Born in Colfax, California, Riley studied at Shasta College, San Francisco State University, and the San Francisco Conservatory before earning an MA in composition at the University of California, Berkeley, studying with Seymour Shifrin and Robert Erickson. At UC Berkeley, he met La Monte Young; together they worked with the dancer Anna Halprin. During a sojourn to Europe 1962-64, he collaborated with members of the Fluxus group, playwright Ken Dewey, and trumpeter Chet Baker, and was involved in street theater and happenings. In 1965 he moved to New York and joined La Monte Young’s "Theater of Eternal Music." 1967 was the year of his first all-night concert at the Philadelphia College of Art and he began a collaboration with visual artist Robert Benson. An influential teacher was Pandit Pran Nath, a master of Indian classical voice. Riley continues to perform in concerts of his music and of Indian classical music, as well as conducting raga-singing seminars. He also appears in concerts with Indian sitarist Krishna Bhatt, saxophonist George Brooks, guitarist Gyan Riley and bassist, Stefano Scodanibbio.
Riley joined the Mills College faculty in 1971. There he met David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet. Their long association led to 13 string quartets, the concerto The Sands (1990), the multimedia choral work commissioned by NASA, Sun Rings (2003), and The Cusp of Magic (2004) with pipa. The Kronos recording of his epic five-quartet cycle, Salome Dances for Peace was selected as the Classical album of the year by "USA Today" and was nominated for a Grammy.
The Palmian Chord Ryddle, a concerto, was premiered in May 2012 by electric violinist Tracy Silverman and The Nashville Symphony led by conductor Giancarlo Guerrero. A subsequent performance occurred at Carnegie Hall. Recent works include Transylvanian Horn Courtship (2008) for string quartet doubling on Stroh instruments, Universal Bridge (2008) for pipe organ, the violin concerto Zephir (2009), and SwarAmant (2012) for violin, guitar, and tabla.
Past commissions include: the orchestral Jade Palace (1991) for Carnegie Hall’s centennial celebration, premiered there by the Saint Louis Symphony and Leonard Slatkin; June Buddhas (1991) for chorus and orchestra, based on Jack Kerouac's "Mexico City Blues," commissioned by the Koussevitsky Foundation; the chamber vocal work What the River Said (1997) by the Norwich Festival; the piano piece in just intonation The Dream (1999) by the Kanagawa Foundation; the concerto for piano and electro-acoustic band Banana Humberto 2000 (2000) commissioned by Musical Traditions, Inc., the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, and Emory University, and premiered and toured by Riley with the Paul Dresher Ensemble; Bruce’s Traveling Machine (2005) for cello and tape, commissioned by the artist Bruce Connor; The Heaven Ladder, Book 6 (Night Music) (2006) for piano 4-hands, commissioned by Sarah Cahill and premiered by Sarah Cahill and Joseph Kubera; Loops for Ancient-Giant-Nude-Hairy Warriors Racing Down the Slopes of Battle (2006) for the Crash Ensemble; the triple concerto SolTierraLuna (2007), co-commissioned by the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and the New Century Chamber Orchestra of San Francisco.