Kronos Quartet & Steve Reich
DUKE PERFORMANCES PREMIERE: SAT, MAR 19, 2011
In this world premiere, two of the most original musical minds of the past hundred years — Steve Reich and David Harrington — came together for a once-in-a-lifetime performance made possible by Duke Performances’ ongoing collaboration with the Kronos Quartet.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Reich is “the most original musical thinker of our time” (The New Yorker), but has to date only written two string quartets, both for Harrington’s group: Triple Quartet (2001) and Different Trains (1988), “a work of such astonishing originality that breakthrough seems the only possible description” (The New York Times).
Another breakthrough arrived with Reich’s third quartet: WTC 9/11, commissioned by Duke Performances and written specifically for Harrington’s breathtaking ensemble as a memorial to September 11 at its tenth anniversary. The era’s most adventurous group performed all three quartets by “our greatest living composer” (The New York Times), and Page Auditorium bore witness to history on March 19, 2011. Reich attended the premiere, which included performances of all three of his string quartets.
Kronos Quartet released Reich’s WTC 9/11 as an album on Nonesuch Records in September 2011.
“I’ve always wanted the string quartet to be vital and energetic and alive and cool and not afraid to kick ass and be absolutely beautiful and ugly if it has to be. But it has to be expressive of life.”David Harrington, Kronos Quartet
“There’s just a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history. Steve Reich is one of them.”The Guardian (UK)
STEVE REICH: Triple Quartet — In three movements (played without pause)
REICH: Selections from The Cave — Macpelah Commentary 2, Ephraim Isaac Chanting & Interior Drone
REICH: WTC 9/11 *World Premiere* — I. 9/11/01 II. 2010 III. WTC
REICH: WTC 9/11 *World Premiere Reprise* — I. 9/11/01 II. 2010 III. WTC
REICH: Different Trains — I. America – Before The War II. Europe – During The War III. After The war
In 2009, the Kronos Quartet asked me for a piece using pre-recorded voices. My first idea was to elongate the speaker’s final vowels or consonants. Stop Action sound. Impossible in 1973 when I first thought of it. Possible in 2001 when Dolly was begun. In this piece it was to be, and is, the means of connecting one person to another — harmonically.
I had no idea who was speaking. No subject matter. After several months, I finally remembered the obvious. For twenty-five years we lived four blocks from the World Trade Center. On 9/11 we were in Vermont, but our son, granddaughter and daughter-in-law were all in our apartment. Our phone connection stayed open for six hours, and our next-door neighbors were finally able to drive north out of the city with their family and ours. For us, 9/11 was not a media event.
By January 2010, several months after Kronos asked me for the piece, I realized the pre-recorded voices would be from 9/11. Specifically, they would start from publicly accessible recordings by NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] and FDNY [the New York City Fire Department], and then from interviews with former friends and neighbors who lived or worked in lower Manhattan.
‘WTC’ is also an abbreviation for ‘World to Come,’ as my friend composer David Lang pointed out. After 9/11 the bodies and parts of bodies were taken to the Medical Examiner’s office on the east side of Manhattan. In Jewish tradition there is an obligation to guard the body from the time of death until burial. The practice, called Shmira, consists of sitting near the body and reciting Psalms or Biblical passages. The roots of the practice are, on one level, to protect the body from animals or insects, and on another, to keep the neshama, or soul, company while it hovers over the body until burial. Because of the difficulties in DNA identification, this went on for seven months, 24/7. Two of the women who sat and recited Psalms are heard in the third movement. You will also hear a cellist (who has sat Shmira elsewhere) and a cantor from a major New York City synagogue sing parts of Psalms and the Torah.
WTC 9/11 is in three movements (though the tempo remains unchanged throughout):
The piece begins and ends with the first violin doubling the loud warning beep (actually an F) your phone makes when it is left off the hook. In the first movement there are archive voices from NORAD air traffic controllers, alarmed that American Airlines Flight 11 was off course. This was the first plane to deliberately crash into the World Trade Center. The movement then shifts to the FDNY archives of that day telling what happened on the ground.
The second movement uses recordings I made in 2010 of neighborhood residents, an officer of the Fire Department and the first ambulance driver (from Hatzalah volunteers) to arrive at the scene, remembering what happened nine years earlier.
The third and last movement uses the voices of a neighborhood resident, two volunteers who took shifts sitting near the bodies, and the cellist/singer and cantor mentioned above.
Throughout WTC 9/11 the strings double and harmonize the speech melodies and prolonged vowels or consonants of the recorded voices. You will hear a total of three string quartets, one live, and two pre-recorded. The piece can also be played by three live quartets and pre-recorded voices.
WTC 9/11 is only 15 and a half minutes long. While composing it I often tried to make it longer, and each time it felt that extending its length reduced its impact. The piece wanted to be terse.
— Steve Reich
Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11 was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the Barbican/London, Carnegie Hall, Duke Performances/Duke University, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts/University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. This commission was also made possible by the Chamber Music America Commissioning Program, with funding generously provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund.
- INDY Week, Steve Reich talks about his 9/11 work, WTC 9/11
- Duke Chronicle, Kronos premieres Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11
- Triangle Arts & Entertainment, Kronos Quartet Premieres Steve Reich’s “WTC 9/11”
- CVNC, The Complete Collaboration of The Kronos Quartet and Steve Reich at Duke
- NPR, First Listen: Steve Reich, ‘WTC 9/11’
- Nonesuch, Steve Reich Talks to LA Times About “WTC 9/11”; Kronos Quartet, Others Discuss Reich’s Music in New Videos
- Pitchfork, Steve Reich / Kronos Quartet, WTC 9/11