Steve Reich’s 9/11 memorial composition is almost unbearably haunting

10 September 2021, 23:34

World Trade Centre and Kronos Quartet
World Trade Centre and Kronos Quartet. Picture: Alamy

By Kyle Macdonald

As the world marks 20 years since the epoch-defining terror attacks, we turn to this expression from the leading minimalist composer.

Of all the artistic responses to the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York on 11 September 2001, Steve Reich’s is surely one of the most affecting.

Rather than a simple tribute, Reich’s piece recreates the chaos and terror of the event itself, with a backing track playing panicked recordings taken from the day itself.

Read more: 10 best pieces of minimalist classical music

The string quartet reacts to these sounds and imitates them throughout, something that Reich has done before, but rarely to such devastating effect. We hear the sound of a phone left off the hook, of air traffic controllers talking, firemen on the streets below – all creating that unique and terrifying atmosphere through music.

It’s a moving and deeply poignant testament to that defining day, capturing the complexities with a lack of resolution that still is felt all these years later.

WTC 9/11 is performed here by Eutopia Ensemble. Take a listen:

WTC 9/11 was written by Reich in 2009-2010 and premiered on March 19, 2011 at Duke University by the renowned Kronos Quartet.

World history has always shaped classical music, from the Napoleonic wars, the rise and fall of empires and technological change, to times of fear, conflict and hope. This is another work, weaved into music’s remarkable fabric.