He is considered the greatest living American composer and was awarded the
Pulitzer Prize for Music last year. She is a pioneer in the realm of video art
exhibited around the world. On Monday night, New Yorkers Steve Reich, 73, and
wife, Beryl Korot, 65, presented extracts from their collaborative works, “The
Cave” and “Three Tales”, to a small audience at the intimate Jerusalem Music
The couple are frequent visitors to Israel, and Reich is a member
of the the JMC’s international advisory committee.
“The Cave” is a
documentary video opera on the Tomb of the Patriarchs exploring the roots of
religion through the biblical character of Abraham and features three acts
containing interviews with Israelis, Palestinians and Americans.
recent “Three Tales”, called an electronic opera, is a reflection of the 20th
century through the stories of the Hindenburg, Bikini and Dolly, addressing the
impact of technology from the dirigible disaster to artificial cloning. It
combines historical film, video footage and computer-created images projected on
a large screen to the backdrop of Reich’s haunting and repetitive, minimalist
“‘The Cave was finished in 1993, and was shown around
Europe live and produced on stage on five video screens, and we thought, ‘there
must be an easier way,’” said Reich. “Technology changed so that Beryl could do
multiple images on one screen, and we were asked, ‘would we write a piece about
the 20th century?’” The result is not only a marvelous, multimedia reflection on
the last century, but an exploration of the ethical debate over the future of
the human species.
“You remember back in the late nineties, everyone was
thinking about Y2K and the end of the millennium and how everything’s
up, and people were writing works or novels or short stories or essays
end of the 20th century?” Reich recalled. “So we said we’d think about
went home and we talked about it. And very quickly, we thought, if you
space looking down, and you took a picture of planet earth in the year
then you took another picture in the year 2,000. you would say, ‘I don't
recognize it anymore.
Look at all the cement, look at all the electric
“My father was born in 1904 and he told me about how horses used
to bring trolleys down Broadway when he was a kid [and about] the
New York City. So technology has been for better and for worse the most
conspicuous and most obvious change in the 20th century. But technology
very abstract idea, so we needed some stories to tell the beginning of
century, middle of the century, end of the century.”
characteristic cap, the New York-born Reich described the three operatic
with the same kind of understated humor that underlines his satire.
first story was ‘Hindenburg’, not the general, the Zeppelin. It was a
filled with hydrogen, and it was built in Germany in the 1930s with big
swastikas on its tail. It made the first Transatlantic flight and it
Manhattan, and over New Jersey, it burst into flames, and they filmed it
saw the swastikas falling down in what became a very prophetic image for
“The next tale was ‘Bikini’, not the bathing suit, but the tiny
Pacific Island after World War II where there was an atomic bomb test.
was basically the UN Navy saying, ‘We want to show the Russians what we
they said to the residents of Bikini, ‘We need your island for a little
and we moved them off the island, and guess what, they’re still not
a little bit like us with Eretz Yisrael. But they haven’t got it back at
yet. A lot of them live in California.
“The third tale came from us
reading the newspapers in the late 1990s about a sheep cloned in
‘Dolly’ is the last act.”
Korot, who called the work “a theater of
ideas,” said the character of science and scientists was a central
“The thing about Dolly is that technology was finally coming
inside our bodies,” she added. “The first act is looking back to the
century with hot air balloons and the whole romance of aviation, and
the Hindenburg disaster, and the captain of the ship who dies, saying,
not have been a technical matter.’ “The second act is based on two
Genesis, two views of mankind taken from Rabbi Soloveitchik’s The Lonely
Faith, of man and woman having dominion, and then humble man and woman
from the rib who was supposed to serve Adam in the garden. Those were
Bikinians. The big navy ships came and took over their atoll in Bikini,
were actually put into exile. And then the third act is all about the
“People think science is ultimately objective and it has
nothing to do with human beings who are investigating it.... I remember
an afternoon in our home with MIT students, and I remember suggesting
[they were impressed] that anything like that would ever be
ASKED BY The Jerusalem Post
“Three Tales” could be
considered a historic document in addition to being an entertaining work
Reich replied: “Any good art always looks like the period in which it
made..... Kurt Weill’s masterpiece, ‘Threepenny Opera’, is only a
because it's so true to the Weimar Republic, which you don’t know, I
it doesn’t exist. But because it’s so real to its time and its place, it
place for everybody else. I don’t know whether this will last or not.
will tell. But the general principle is: the more local you are, the
In the “Dolly” act, Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
provides the lyrics to Reich’s catchy score: “Every creature has a song.
song of the dogs. The song of the fly. The song of the fox.
What do they
say?” Like all “good art,” as Reich put it, “Three Tales” poses
questions about the human condition. The answers are left for the
ultimately the future.
Reich and Korot are not everyone’s cup of tea. The
woman sitting next to this writer yawned constantly through the
even fell asleep at one point. At the end of the 90-minute show, though,
audience was overwhelmingly appreciative, giving the couple warm