Steve Reich's Complete String Quartets, Including "WTC 9/11," to Be Performed at NYC's Poisson Rouge, Videocast Live on NPR
Steve Reich's complete string quartets—Different Trains (1988), Triple Quartet (1998), and WTC 9/11 (2010)—will be performed in concert by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) at (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York City tonight, with the composer in attendance. The program, which features the all-live version of Triple Quartet for three string quartets and the world premiere of the all-live version of WTC 9/11 for three string quartets and tape, will be streaming and videocast live via NPR.org and Q2 Music, the online new-music station from WQXR in New York. The performance will be preceded by a pre-concert discussion between Steve Reich and John Schaefer of New York NPR member station WNYC.
On Different Trains, which earned a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Composition, Reich evokes his American childhood during World War II while also addressing the Holocaust. The New York Times declared it “a work of such originality that ‘breakthrough’ seems the only possible description." The piece, scored for string quartet and pre-recorded performance tape, began a new way of composing in which carefully chosen speech recordings generate the musical materials for musical instruments.
A decade later, Reich unveiled his second string quartet, Triple Quartet. According to Reich, the initial inspiration for the piece came from the last movement of Bartók’s Fourth Quartet. “Its energy was my starting point,” he says. While working on the piece, he heard the music of Alfred Schnittke for the first time, specifically his string quartets, which deeply affected his writing, as did Michael Gordon’s Yo Shakespeare. Reich says, “the piece became considerably more dissonant and expressionistic than expected,” as a result of these influences. The Boston Phoenix says that Triple Quartet illustrates Reich’s “penchant for maximizing melody as well as the advantages of employing technology to widen the instrumental palette.”
Reich would return to pre-recorded voice for WTC 9/11, but, unlike on Different Trains, with the speakers’ final vowels and consonants elongated in a stop-motion sound technique that Reich says is the “means of connecting one person to another—harmonically.” WTC 9/11 reflects on the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001, when Reich and his family lived only four blocks away from the site of the tragedy. The pre-recorded voices and their texts belong to NORAD air traffic controllers, as they raised the alert that the airplanes were off course; FDNY workers on the scene; friends and former neighbors of the Reichs, recalling that day; and women who kept vigil, or Shmira, over the dead in a tent outside the Medical Examiner's office, reading Psalms or Biblical passages. The New Yorker says the piece is "indicative of the undiminished powers of a great American artist."