Jay Reise

Professor of Music
Room 304, Lerner Music Building

Jay Reise’s opera Rasputin was given its highly successful Russian premiere in Moscow by the Helikon Opera in 2008 and is now being performed by Helikon in repertory to sold out houses. The opera was performed in Paris and at the Saaremaa Festival in Estonia in 2012. Award-winning composer Reise (b. 1950) wrote the music and libretto for Rasputin which was commissioned by the late Beverly Sills and premiered by the New York City Opera in 1988. It was described at its premiere in The Washington Times as “a spellbinding, challenging and profoundly beautiful creation.” 

Reise's Oscar Wilde-based ballet fairy-tale The Selfish Giant was commissioned and premiered by the Philharmonia Orchestra in London in 1997. The River Within (Concerto for Violin and Orchestra) was premiered and recorded by Maria Bachmann and Orchestra 2001 (Innova Records); the recording has received rave reviews from the leading periodicals in the industry. Other important works include the Concerto for Horn and 7 Instruments, commissioned and premiered by Adam Unsworth and the Network for New Music; the piano quintet Powers That Be, commissioned by the Barlow Foundation and premiered by the Cassatt Quartet and Marc-André Hamelin. Some critical phrases describing Reise’s music have included "Nature in its most songful state"; "... fluidity and mastery that creates an optimum showcase for his attractive thematic ideas"; and "The River Within is a most moving work". Reise is currently working on an opera Capone based on the notorious gangster. 


Reise was born in 1950 in New York City and has lived in Philadelphia since he was appointed to the music faculty at the University of Pennsylvania in 1980. In 1978-80 he composed his first two symphonies supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Guggenheim fellowship. Symphony of Voices was premiered at the Monadnock Festival, and his Second Symphony was premiered by the Syracuse Symphony, conducted by Christopher Keene, and performed subsequently by the Philadelphia Orchestra. His Third Symphony was supported by the Dietrich and Rockefeller Foundations and premiered by the Long Island Philharmonic. Other awards and fellowships have come from the Fromm Foundation, Bellagio, the Camargo Foundation, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music and twice from the National Endowment for the Arts.


The music of Jay Reise music has been performed widely both in the United States and internationally including an all-Reise retrospective concert in Moscow in 2000. He has been a recipient of the US-Japan Creative Arts Fellowship and has served as Director of Contemporary Music at the Grand Teton Music Festival.


The recipient of many commissions, prizes and fellowships including the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Barlow Foundation, Copland Recording Fund, and the Koussevitzky Tanglewood prize in Composition, his teachers included George Crumb, Jimmy Giuffre, Adrian L’Armand, and Richard Wernick, His music has been performed widely both in the United States and abroad including all-Reise retrospective concerts in Moscow and Philadelphia. 


Reise works with a technique that he calls "rhythmic polyphony" in which rhythmic motives are developed within the phrase such that the cadence point is implied rhythmically as well as through harmonic and contrapuntal means. This technique has been a part of his music since 1990.


Music essayist Peter Rabinowitz has written of Reise's recent music, "His work is firmly in the Western tradition. But because of the fresh perspectives offered by his study of Indian music, he has been able to rethink some specific problems facing contemporary Western art music…Reise's study of rhythm has allowed him to think of phrasing (and cadence) in a new way." Critic Andrew Quint has written of the CD Jay Reise: Chamber Music, "Jay Reise writes music that is intensely engaging. It deploys traditional classical forms with assurance, yet it possesses a spontaneous organicity that derives

in part from the composer's interest in jazz and the rhythms of South Indian music. This is essential listening for any fan of contemporary music, and chamber music aficionados in general."


Among his CD recordings are the violin concerto The River Within with soloist Maria Bachmann (Innova 745) and The Devil in the Flesh and Other Pieces (Albany) with pianist Marc-André Hamelin. 


Reise's articles have appeared in Opera News, Nineteenth-Century Music, Perspectives of New Music, as well as the volumes of essays Indeterminacy: The Mapped, the Navigable, and the Uncharted, (2008) and Reading World Literature (1994).


Jay Reise is Professor of Music Composition at the University of Pennsylvania and president emeritus of Orchestra 2001. His music is published by Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co. 

Research Interests: 


New work for Network for New Music, voice and ensemble, Harbison project, pending, 2012-13.

New work for string quartet and percussion for the Lark Quartet and Yousif Sheronick, pending.



Selected Publications: 


Rasputin - opera in two acts (1988) (2 hrs.) Libretto by the composer. Revised 2008, Helikon Opera, Moscow 2008-11. Opéra de Massy, Paris 2010. Scheduled Saaremaa Festival, Estonia, July 2012. Commissioned by Beverly Sills and the New York City Opera 1988.

The River Within (Concerto for Violin and Orchestra) (26:00) Maria Bachmann, violin; Orchestra 2001, 2008 (Recorded Innova 745)

Six Pictures from The Devil in the Flesh for piano, (16:00) (2000) Marc-André Hamelin, piano (Recorded Albany TROY665)

The Selfish Giant  (Choreographic tone-poem in six scenes for orchestra) (26:00) Commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra (London) 1997, Djong Yu, conductor 

Symphony No. 3 (22:00) Long Island Philharmonic Orchestra 1983

Symphony No. 2 (25:00) Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, 1980; Philadelphia Orchestra 1984




The River Within: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (Innova 745)

*Jay Reise Chamber Music (Albany TROY 1004) 2008 

*The Devil in the Flesh and Other Pieces (Albany TROY665) 2004 

*Rhythmic Garlands and Other Pieces  (Centaur CRC 2598) 2003 

Concerto for Cello and 13 Instruments  (CRI 899) 2002

Chesapeake Rhythms CRI 760 (CD) (1997)