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April 29, 2015 

Terry Riley
Photo: Chris Felver


The San Francisco Conservatory of Music will grant Terry Riley, one of America’s most influential living composers and a former Conservatory student, the honorary degree of Doctor of Music at this year’s commencement ceremonies. With his landmark minimalist work In C, Riley pioneered a compositional style that has influenced everything from chamber and orchestral music to rock and roll. An artist who continues to inspire new generations of musicians, Riley was honored at SFCM last January with a concert of premieres written for his 80th birthday and at the recent Switchboard Music Festival with a rendition of In C rewritten as a tribute and performed by numerous Conservatory alumni. Riley will help send off the class of 2015 in ceremonies held at 10:30 a.m. on May 22 in the Conservatory’s Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall.

President David H. Stull says the Conservatory is privileged to honor Riley as a role model for this year’s graduates. “His work as a composer is clearly extraordinary, but more important is his impact on musicians and the art form itself. The music of our century would be demonstrably different in his absence; this truth is both a rare phenomenon and a monumental achievement, the full measure of which will not be known for generations to come. He is a remarkable individual and we are proud to honor him as an alumnus and friend.”

Stull and Board of Trustees Chair Timothy W. Foo will preside as the Conservatory confers 39 Bachelor of Music degrees and 86 Master of Music degrees upon graduates in the areas of instrumental performance, voice, piano accompanying, composition, conducting and chamber music. Twenty-one postgraduate students will receive a professional studies degree, postgraduate diploma or artist certificate. Tenor Sidney Ragland, representing graduate students, and guitarist Anthony Mariano, representing undergraduates, will join speakers in offering advice, encouragement and congratulations to SFCM’s class of 2015, a group that includes members from some 13 countries and 20 states. Two graduating guitarists, Keith Barnhart and Patrick Smith, will perform Terry Riley’s Zamorra, written in 1996 for the Assad Brothers, the virtuosic guitar duo of SFCM faculty member Sérgio Assad and his brother Odair.

Terry Riley developed the style that came to be known as minimalism by exploring forms based on interlocking, repetitive patterns. After studying under Conservatory faculty member Robert Erickson during the 1950s, he joined seminal composers such as Steve Reich and Pauline Oliveros in experimenting with electronic techniques at the San Francisco Tape Music Center, co-founded by Conservatory alumnus Ramon Sender ’62. Following the success of In C, which premiered in 1964, Riley’s work evolved to incorporate influences from gamelan and Indian raga to jazz and to span genres from dance to avant-garde theater. He has written numerous works for Kronos Quartet, including the Grammy-nominated Salome Dances for Peace, and received commissions or premieres from organizations such as Carnegie Hall, the Paul Dresher Ensemble, the Philadelphia Orchestra and New Century Chamber Orchestra. SFCM faculty members including guitarist David Tanenbaum, pianist Sarah Cahill and cellist Jennifer Culp, as well as Sérgio Assad, are among the many artists to commission and perform Riley’s music. Even as he turns 80 in June, Riley continues to maintain an active performance schedule.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music honors Riley’s legacy by continuing to promote innovation in new music. Next fall, SFCM welcomes the first class to major in Technology and Applied Composition, a program that marries core techniques in classical composition with cutting-edge practices in scoring, sound design and recording. The Conservatory also sponsors major awards and annual competitions that result in concert premieres of orchestral, chamber and choral works as well as art song and music for non-traditional ensembles. Collaborations between Conservatory composers and performers have spawned groups such as Nonsemble 6, Mobius Trio, Friction Quartet and many others which are winning critical acclaim and a loyal following by juxtaposing brand new works with classical and contemporary masterpieces.

Terry Riley joins a list of distinguished artists granted honorary doctoral degrees by the Conservatory. Past recipients include violinist and SFCM alumnus Isaac Stern, opera singer Frederica von Stade, the Juilliard String Quartet and, more recently, composer, philanthropist and alumnus Gordon Getty, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Music Director Nicholas McGegan, San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and guitarist Pepe Romero.


About The San Francisco Conservatory of Music:

Founded in 1917, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music is the oldest conservatory in the American West and has earned an international reputation for producing musicians of the highest caliber. Notable alumni include violinists Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern, conductor and pianist Jeffrey Kahane, soprano Elza van den Heever, Blue Bottle Coffee founder James Freeman and Ronald Losby, President, Steinway & Sons-Americas, among others. Its faculty includes nearly 30 members of the San Francisco Symphony as well as Grammy and Latin Grammy Award-winning artists in the fields of orchestral and chamber performance and classical guitar. The Conservatory offers its approximately 400 collegiate students fully accredited bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in composition and instrumental and vocal performance. SFCM was the first institution of its kind to offer world-class graduate degree programs in chamber music and classical guitar. Its Pre-College Division provides exceptionally high standards of musical excellence and personal attention to 365 younger students. SFCM faculty and students give nearly 500 public performances each year, most of which are offered to the public at no charge. Its community outreach programs serve over 1,600 school children and over 6,000 members of the wider community who are otherwise unable to hear live performances. The Conservatory’s Civic Center facility is an architectural and acoustical masterwork, and the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall was lauded by The New York Times as the “most enticing classical-music setting” in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information, visit www.sfcm.edu.


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