Daily Bow: WTC 9/11 – Steve Reich


Steve Reich has drawn criticism not for his most recent composition WTC 9/11 – a piece which was given a thumbs up by musicologist by Christian Carey – but for the album cover on the CD on which the new work is featured. While only a few people have heard the new piece played live, the album on which it will be featured – the latest from the Kronos Quartet – has received much criticism by its seemingly grotesque imagery of the now infamous snapshot of the second plane hitting the second tower on that fateful in day in American history. While there are certainly those that feel the imagery used as the album cover is inappropriate, there are of course those who would disagree.

At the same time, the image fits.The musical subject matter of the minimalist veteran Reich’s new work touches as raw a nerve as its graphic cover image. Performed by the Kronos Quartet, Reich’s music reflects on America’s most notorious terrorist attack, including the manipulated voices of air-traffic controllers, fire fighters and everyday New Yorkers recorded on the day the planes hit. Due for release on September 6, ahead of the 10th anniversary of the attacks, it’s not necessarily such a huge departure for a composer who never shies away from difficult topics. But given how fresh the memories of September 11 still are for so many New Yorkers, is Reich’s new work a step too far?

It is for some, perhaps, butWTC 9/11‘s sensitive material is nothing new for Reich. Equally, the album’s use of recordings of real people is a theme that runs consistently through Reich’s music. The 75-year-old composer’s most famous later work, Different Trains, from 1988, matched a string quartet with recorded reminiscences from Holocaust survivors, as well as sirens and train whistles. Exploring the different routes Jews worldwide took during the Second World War, its repetitive, hypnotic string loops and sampled voices mesh together to create something affecting and beautiful.

Below is a review of WTC 9/11 by David Harrington, violinist and founder of the Kronos Quartet.


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