Olivier Greif was born in Paris on January 3rd, 1950. His father had studied piano in Poland before moving to France and becoming a doctor. A precocious child, Olivier discovered music at age three in a progressive kindergarten. Admitted to the Paris National Conservatory at age ten, he studied piano with Lucette Descaves and composition with Tony Aubin. He received his composition prize in 1967.
In 1970, he went to New York City to study with Luciano Berio in Juilliard School. He followed his master to Santa Fe as an assistant for the creation of Berio’s work Opera.
From 1961 to 1981, he composed a first series of works. His style was quite personal, unaffected by current trends.
Unhinged by the illness and death of his mother (in 1978), he found solace in meditation and the teachings of a New York-based Indian guru. After composing a Requiem sonata for cello and piano celebrating the memory of his mother (in 1979) and a small opera, Nô (in 1981), he stopped writing classical music altogether during ten years. He became his guru’s Kapellmeister. He founded choirs of disciples in France and other European countries, composed pieces for the choirs based on his guru’s words and tunes, went on tour with the French choir around the world.
In 1991, he resumed his career as a classical composer. He wrote a new series of dark and intense pieces, marked by themes he had always been familiar with: the war, his father’s stay in Auschwitz, the loss of most of his family in the death camps. Lettres de Westerbork for voice and two violins (1993) is based on Hetty Hillesum’s letters from the Westerbok camp. Olivier Greif put Paul Celan’s poems to music in his Symphony with voice (1997) and in a great chamber music work, L’office des naufragés (1998). Most of his important works can be heard on YouTube and Spotify.
Having been badly ill twice, he died suddenly at home on May 13, 2000, aged fifty. The autopsy didn’t reveal the cause of his death.
His two brothers, with the help of Olivier’s closest friends, founded an Olivier Greif society to help his music be better known. The society finances concerts, recordings, the engraving and publishing of scores, etc. The society’s website: http://www.oliviergreif.com, includes a list of current concerts, a complete list of concerts since 1957, a biography, a detailed catalog of the music, a list of records, several photographs of Olivier and a form for joining the society
Jean Jacques Greif © 2017