When I met Steve Reich for the first time in the early 1980s, he had not written for string quartet, nor did he seem likely to. A couple years later, since there were no Reich quartets in existence yet, Kronos decided to open a concert in San Francisco with Steve’s Clapping Music. I thought that was a cool idea, to start a concert by clapping for the audience, but it turned out to be a dangerous one when we realized on stage that all the clapping makes your hands swell up. But having survived that experience, I wrote to Steve, telling him that Kronos had just played his first quartet piece and asking if he would be interested in writing another. So we began corresponding.
Several years passed, and the next time I saw Steve was when he brought György Ligeti to hear our performance of Terry Riley’s mammoth Salome Dances for Peace. By then, Steve was actively thinking about writing for Kronos and had been commissioned by Betty Freeman.
When bits of Different Trains began to arrive in the mail, I knew immediately that something special was developing. Because Different Trains is performed in concert by a live quartet with three additional quartets on tape, we had to record Different Trains before we could ever play it in performance. Every other piece that we had recorded up until then we had performed and practiced for a long time. Different Trains was different. And everything about Different Trains—its boldness, its subject matter, its sound requirements—has pushed Kronos and our music into many new directions.
We thank Steve for writing this masterpiece for Kronos, which has altered our work forever and has helped to reinvigorate our entire musical form. To my ears, Different Trains sounds as fresh, disturbing, and personal as it did when it was written. Steve opened a huge door with Different Trains, unlocking many rooms full of possibilities. What an astonishing accomplishment.
Violinist David Harrington is the founding member of the Kronos Quartet.