Steve Reich’s percussionist, RIP

Steve Reich’s percussionist, RIP


norman lebrecht

January 23, 2014

We’ve been notified of the death of James Preiss, who worked with the composer all the way back to the premiere of Drumming.



While looking for interested percussionists to play his new piece, Reich called Paul Price at the Manhattan School of Music. Price referred him to James Preiss, who soon became a member of his ensemble. (Reich also took some informal marimba lessons from him.) This was about the time when he was contacted by Russell Hartenberger for guidance on Russ’s upcoming trip to Ghana. Hartenberger, in turn, introduced Reich to Bob Becker, and the four percussionists were soon practicing bongos together.

‘By the time I got to the end of the piece,’ explains Reich, ‘I noticed that those pitches were in the middle register of the marimba and thought it would be interesting to expand to a wider pitch scope because I had been limited to these four notes for 20 minutes. So I went through a similar process: getting a marimba and playing against tape. Then I began to hear women’s voices, like an aural hallucination, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were women singing—kind of like Ella Fitzgerald scat singing.’ That grew into ‘Drumming, Part II.’