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Steve Reich’s three string quartets—Different Trains, Triple Quartet and WTC 9/11—are recorded by the Mivos Quartet and released together for the first time on one recording by Deutsche Grammophon.

“One of America’s most daring and ferocious new-music ensembles” (The Chicago Reader), the New York-based Mivos Quartet releases the complete Steve Reich string quartets on one album, Steve Reich: The String Quartets (Deutsche Grammophon). Composed between 1988 and 2010, Different Trains, Triple Quartet and WTC 9/11 were inspired respectively by the music of speech, echoes of Bartók and the events of a day transformed by terror. The album features notes written by WQXR radio host John Schaefer, and is available on February 3 on all formats, including a 2-LP vinyl set.

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When the Mivos Quartet, “one of America’s most daring and ferocious new-music ensembles” (The Chicago Reader), approached Steve Reich to discuss the idea of their recording his three string quartets, they got an enthusiastic response. The composer supported the project from start to finish, answering the players’ questions about fine musical details, offering advice on matters of style and endorsing the finished recording.

Different Trains (1988) is Reich’s first work in the string quartet genre, the result of his experiments with treating the quartet as a single instrument. Combining live performance with pre-recorded speech and additional layers of pre-recorded music, it recalls both his own train journeys between New York and California in the early 1940s and the very different train rides taken in the same years by other Jewish children, in Europe, to Nazi concentration camps.

Unlike the other two works on the album, Triple Quartet (1998) is purely instrumental, using no vocal samples but requiring one quartet to record music for two others, then perform the first quartet part together with the tape playback. In contrast to the outer movements’ rhythmic intensity, inspired by the energetic finale of Bartók’s Fourth String Quartet, the slow central movement presents a clear counterpoint built from short melodic ideas, evolving into a canon for all twelve voices.

Reich’s most recent string quartet, WTC 9/11, is the opening work on the album. Like Different Trains, it is built around voice recordings, in this case made during or after the terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center on 11 September 2001. WTC 9/11 also includes recordings of the Hebrew psalms recited by those who sat with the bodies of the dead before burial. “If music doesn’t come out of emotional intensity,” Reich said prior to the quartet’s premiere in 2011, “that music doesn’t last.”

Photo: Jeffrey Herman

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