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Steve Reich’s “WTC 9/11”– World to Come and Shmira

September 6, 2011


The terrorist attacks of 9/11 affected me more deeply than any other public event in my lifetime.  I lost two people in 9/11, a professional colleague and a relative.  And the aftermath of 9/11 touched nearly every part of my life.  I had nightmares for a year following the event – and I still dream of it sometimes.

A number of artists have responded to 9/11, but I am particularly struck by Steve Reich’s composition “WTC 9/11”, performed by the Kronos Quartet  on Reich’s new CD. You can listen to the piece in its entirety here.  (Note:  I know Steve Reich personally.)

What does WTC mean?

Reaching deep into the immediate chaos and accumulated pain of that day, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer pulls out layers of meaning from the initials “WTC.” They stand for World Trade Center, but they also refer to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier — which Reich chose not to quote directly, but rather honor in spirit.

Inspired by a good friend, fellow composer David Lang, Reich delves into the spiritual and metaphysical dimensions of another “WTC” — the “world to come.” Reich, who is immersed in Judaism, draws in the voices of women who fulfilled the Jewish obligation of shmira, or sitting with the victims’ remains before burial, chanting Psalms and other Biblical passages to accompany the souls of the dead. But layers of anxiety about our current lives and time in history lurk in that phrase, as well. As Lang says at the piece’s conclusion, “The world to come. I don’t really know what that means.”

(Steve Reich speaks further about the piece here.)

This is a deeply unsettling piece of music, as befits a deeply unsettling event, with multiple layers of meaning, and many religious references.  The “world to come” (העולם הבא) in Judaism refers to the hereafter.  But even our post 9/11 future in this world is hardly clear.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2011 6:13 pm

    “You can listen to the piece in its entirety here.” “This is a deeply unsettling piece of music, as befits a deeply unsettling event, with multiple layers of meaning, and many religious references.”

    Thank you for letting us listen, for introducing us to this piece by sharing something so personal too. The 9/11 memories, for many, almost need this kind of art, beyond words and yet so profoundly dependent on them as well.

  2. September 7, 2011 1:43 pm

    Thank you for your supportive words, Kurk. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to write at length what 9/11 fully means to me.


  1. Hyperbole « BLT

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