Advertising

Originally published Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Composer Steve Reich remembers with 'WTC 9/11'

Steve Reich's disc "WTC 9/11" commemorates the 10th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center with stunning new work.

Seattle Times arts writer

No comments have been posted to this article.
Start the conversation >

advertising

CD REVIEW |

The pulse that characterizes much of Steve Reich's music is typically hypnotic, serene, even otherworldly.

But in "WTC 9/11," his piece commemorating the 10th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, the violin pulse of the opening measures mimics an alarm signal: the agitated beep of a telephone left off the hook.

In the 15 minutes of music that follow, human voices and densely layered string instruments combine. Panic, bewilderment and uneasiness characterize the first two movements, while a sense of mourning and a long perspective emerge from the third.

It's a stunning work, built on a technique Reich developed in "Different Trains," where he first set prerecorded voices against a live string quartet. "WTC 9/11" is actually scored for three string quartets, with Kronos Quartet playing all three parts on the new Nonesuch recording of the piece.

The voices, taken from both public records (air traffic controllers, first responders) and private sources (neighborhood residents, volunteers who kept watch over recovered bodies), are electronically stretched and distorted to dovetail with the musical motifs. The angular melodic character of eyewitnesses' fragmented utterances is highlighted, while the vocal quality of the string instruments is likewise stressed.

I'm a skeptic when it comes to classical music adequately memorializing dire events. But with "WTC 9/11," Reich shows at least one way it can be done.

Rounding out the CD are two pieces in a much lighter vein. "Dance Patterns," performed by members of Steve Reich and Musicians on vibraphones, xylophones and pianos, was commissioned for a film about the choreography of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. "Mallet Quartet," performed by So Percussion on vibraphones and five-octave marimbas, is intricate, ebullient, propulsive, sublime. It's stellar, vibrant Reich. The CD will come with a DVD of So Percussion performing the piece.

The release of the "WTC 9/11" CD has been preceded by some controversy, delaying its release from Sept. 6 to Sept. 20. Its original cover showed the World Trade Center from the New Jersey shore on 9/11, with the north tower in flames and the second airliner, in silhouette, about to collide with the south tower. The new cover — an almost abstract rendering of the rubble cloud that spread through Lower Manhattan after the collapse of the towers — is both subtler and considerably more resonant, capturing the way the attacks, 10 years later, still linger and infiltrate our world.

Whatever the cover, the music itself makes an indelible impression.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon




Advertising