On Saturday April 30, a surprisingly eclectic crowd filled Carnegie Hall in New York City to witness a monumental celebration of Steve Reich’s 75th birthday. As one of the most progressive minds in American composition in the last century, Reich’s music has earned the attention of the highest classical music authorities since the ’70s while also maintaining its lofty reputation within a diverse array of musical communities. The concert featured 3 New York premieres of Reich’s most recent pieces including Mallet Quartet, 2×5, and WTC 9/11 for string quartet and recorded samples.
This year the residents of New York City will remember the attacks that took place on 10 years ago on September 11, 2001. As Reich’s WTC 9/11 directly reflects the horror of that day, the New York premiere of the piece demonstrated its emotive power as memories of the terrible event churned within the bellies of the audience. The piece began with the terrifying alarm of a telephone receiver joined by dissonant chords from the quartet. As the piece moves through its form, samples of transmissions from NORAD air controllers, the voices of New York firefighters and interviews with witnesses (as well as layers of pre-recorded strings) are played as the string quartet mimics the tonal qualities of the voices in its melodies. Reich has used this approach to incorporating recorded samples before in his works like Different Trains but it never before has had such emotional impact.
In looking at the piece objectively, the sounds produced by the infamous Kronos Quartet during the performance were almost dispassionate and lacked expression. However, it was immediately apparent that the purpose of the piece was to document the event rather than recreate it. The result was a tear jerking experience in which the voices from September 11 unleash their raw expressive power on the listener. The recording of the piece will not be released until later this year but I assure you, people will look back on WTC 9/11 for years and acknowledge it as one of the most important American compositions of this decade.