Steve Reich, Bill Morrison, London Contemporary Orchestra and Sound Intermedia
28th September, 2016
Reviewed by Rob Harrison
Edge Hill railway station, in all its gothic grandeur, plus the overcast gloomy skies, makes a fitting spectral setting for Steve Reich’s Different Trains.
Presented by METAL this performance celebrates not only the composer Steve Reich’s 80th birthday but also a reflection on the role of the railway in modern life, Edge Hill Station in Liverpool being the birthplace of the modern railway and in turn the Industrial Revolution .
The clouds might be threatening but it does not seem to have put people off coming to the venue, which is packed and, as it’s being held in the railway car park, it’s a little bit different shall we say.
Different Trains is a three movement piece for string quartet and tape written in 1988 and performed in 1989 by the Kronos Quartet.
Tonight though it is performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra, accompanied by a film by Bill Morrison.The piece concerns Reich who, as a child during World War II made various train journeys between New York And Los Angeles to visit his parents, who had separated.
Years later he reflected on the fact that as a Jew, and had he been in Europe at that time rather than America, he might be travelling on trains bound for the death camps, hence the title Different Trains.
So, Different Trains becomes a meditation on the Holocaust. Critics have praised the work, considering it to have the gravitas to serve as a fitting memorial to that terrible period in world history.
Alongside the musical pieces Reich has used samples of speeches about train travel and statements from Holocaust survivors.
So here we are back at the gig. The London Contemporary Orchestra are sounding great. So good to be able to see these brilliant musicians here in Liverpool and a chance to listen to some reasonably modern music.
The film that accompanies the piece, as I said before, is by Bill Morrison. It starts off alright using old slightly damaged film stock which lends a slightly abstract air to the proceedings, but when we move on to the various footage of people alighting off different trains (no pun intended) it starts to get a bit dull and ceases to serve the music. In fact it slows down the fast pace of the piece but, apart from that micro glitch, it’s brilliant .
The band seem to play for what appears to be about hour and a half, and they seem to have amazing stamina throughout, but I must admit they do look a little tired when they finish. I Imagine It’s quite a demanding piece to play.
So, unfortunately the gig has to end and Steve Reich, Bill Morrison and the band all take to the stage and take a well deserved bow.
Everybody now seems to be in a cosmic haze after the gig, and start to slowly wander off, our appetites whetted for more postmodern minimalist music. Let’s hope METAL reciprocate very soon.