Album Review: Steve Reich: WTC 9/11 by Kronos Quartet
Very Good, Based on 6 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
This 2011 album features three attractive works by Steve Reich written between 2002 and 2010. These aren't pieces that break new ground for the composer, but they are bound to appeal to anyone who appreciates his earlier work. They are most reminiscent of his music from the late 1970s and 1980s, one of his most productive and musically distinguished periods.
Nonesuch continues to keep its Steve Reich discography up to date with major works from 2009 and 2010, alongside a smaller earlier piece, Dance Patterns for pairs of xylophones, vibraphones and pianos, from 2002. Reich's string-quartet memorial to the victims of the World Trade Center atrocity, WTC 9/11, was finished last year and introduced on both sides of the Atlantic as part of the concerts to mark the composer's 75th birthday a few months ago. It uses samples of news documentary recordings, as well as interviews with Reich's New York neighbours and eye-witnesses as the starting point for the four movements, with the quartet writing (itself overlaid twice on tape) developed from the recorded sounds and speech patterns.
The first performance of WTC 9/11, Steve Reich's memorial to September 11, took place at Duke University-- 500 miles south of Ground Zero. From there, it traveled to L.A.-- nearly 3,000 miles west of the attacks it commemorated-- before touching down in Carnegie Hall a month later. It was an oddly circuitous cross-country tiptoe for a work by a native New Yorker about the collapse of the towers he lived four blocks from, but it spoke to the fearsome difficulty in addressing 9/11 headlong.
The first controversial hurdle this release had to leap over was its cover. Prior to its release, the Steve Reich/Kronos Quartet collaboration WTC 9/11, Mallet Quartet, Dance Patterns was under attack for using a specific photograph from the September 11 terrorist attacks, one that people probably want to forget. Instead of showing the second United Airlines flight just milliseconds away from smashing into the second tower, Nonesuch opted for a more cryptic image of billowing debris clouds.
Steve Reich, who just turned a very youthful seventy-five, is often regarded as one of the chief composers of Minimalism. His compositions are both repetitive and transformative; they sometimes call for uncommon instrumentation to explore new timbres, and at other times, weirdly-manipulated forms of tape delay. His new work, WTC 9/11, continues his use of a technique called speech melody, which roughly involves acoustic instruments playing in sync with the pitch and rhythm of recorded voices.
WTC 9/11 simply doesn’t have the structural cohesion or magnitude of Different Trains. Andrew Mellor 2011 However the enterprising people at Nonesuch try to dress it up, the majority of the content on this disc bears no relation to the attacks on the World Trade Center, and some of it was recorded as much as seven years ago. The logistics have clearly proved a headache for those charged with the production of a viable product, and unfortunately it shows.