Steve Reich’s 1988 composition “Different Trains” is immediately recognizable, even to those with just a passing interest in modern music. The piece has technical virtuosity, a melody intricately constructed using archival speech recordings, and indisputable aesthetic soundness. Beyond these virtues, one senses that deeply personal undertones inform the work. These include Reich’s peripatetic childhood, shuttling by train between his divorced parents, as well as the contemplation of people forced to take a different type of train journey altogether.
For this reason, interpreting “Different Trains” demands sensitivity, not just to the composer’s intent but also to the audience’s expectations. But respect need not calcify into veneration; appreciating the work’s antecedents ought not forestall the creative reconfiguration of what remains a signature piece of Reich’s long and distinguished career.
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