Different Trains (1988) will probably go down in history as Reich’s masterpiece. And deservedly so. Reich’s phase-shifting minimalism is made dazzlingly entertaining in Different Trains, which is scored for string quartet and digitally sampled voices that repeat bits of speech concerning trains and Reich’s experience with them growing up. The sinister part here is than some trains carried Jews to death camps. That’s here as well. The Kronos Quartet has also never sounded better.
Different Train is one of Steve Reich’s most talked-about pieces. It was inspired by his personal memories of his experience as a child riding trains a lot all over the United States to visit each of his divorced parents, & also interviews he did with holocaust survivors about their experiences aboard European trains in WWII. The string quartet’s job is mostly to match speech melody, & there are other trainy sounds mixed in, too. The music is very muscular, very compelling.
During the war years, Reich made train journeys between New York and Los Angeles to visit his parents, who had separated. Years later, he pondered the fact that, as a Jew, had he been in Europe instead of the United States at that time, he might have been travelling in very different trains.
Electric Counterpoint (1987) has one guitar–Pat Metheny in this case– playing to 10 pre-recorded motifs, also on guitar.
Electric Counterpoint is some of Reich’s most beautiful music if you ask me. Each note is absolutely clear; the music changes gradually in increments with great awareness of keeping the listener never bored but always interested. The guitar virtuosity of Pat Metheny does a lot for the piece, too. For one thing, Reich finished his drafts of the music with Metheny telling him where the notes could go given the physical shape of guitars. For me, Electric Counterpoint is probably much more enjoyable to listen to than Different Trains. Wonderful music.
Performers: Ulster Orchestra, Takua Yuasa
Lesley Hatfield & Rebecca Hirsch, violins
01 – Tabula Rasa – Ludus
02 – Tabula Rasa – Silentium
03 – Collage Über Bach – Toccata
04 – Collage Über Bach – Sarabande
05 – Collage Über Bach – Ricercare
06 – Symphony No. 3 – First Movement
07 – Symphony No. 3 – Second Movement
08 – Symphony No. 3 – Third Movement