Dance and Music Reviews : Kronos Quartet Premieres Reich’s ‘Different Trains’


The West Coast premiere of Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” topped the bill Saturday night at Wadsworth Theater in a thoroughly impressive, intelligent evening of music making--the last of several concerts by the Kronos Quartet this season sponsored by the UCLA Center for the Arts.

“Different Trains” represents a refreshing return to electronics for Reich, who for the past 20 years has worked largely in non-electronic mediums. It is both a homage to the victims of the Holocaust who rode the trains to Poland, and an autobiographical work, as Reich spent much of his childhood during World War II riding the trains between New York and Los Angeles.

Using recorded fragments of spoken phrases by Reich’s governess, an old train porter and three Holocaust survivors, short melodic fragments are patterned after the vocal inflections of those fragments. The quartet then performs these melodies along with a prerecorded tape part of electronic whistle sounds, the spoken phrases and a second quartet part playing the melodies repeatedly, imitating the chugging of a train.


The result uncannily combines a childlike imagination reflecting on the horrors of war with Reich’s trademark form of Minimalism. David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt and Joan Jeanrenaud worked wonders with the score, emphasizing nuances while letting the music run its own course.

Also given a superb reading, Kaija Saariaho’s “Nymphea” utilizes electronics and live performance in a less simple way. Scratchy sounds, sinuous glissandi and whispering by the players combine with the tape part to form a chilling, neo-Expressionist nightmare.

Completing the program were Shostakovich’s melancholy String Quartet No. 8; Eleanor Hovda’s reserved study on barely audible sounds, “Lemniscastes,” and an encore, Arvo Part’s gentle, droning folk tune setting, “Fratres.”