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Written for the Kronos Quartet in 1988, Different Trains won the 1989 Grammy for Best Contemporary Composition. Like Vermont Counterpoint, it mixes live performance with pre-recorded material, in this case the voices of Reich’s childhood governess, a retired Pullman porter, Holocaust survivors, and authentic train sounds. “When I was one year old my parents separated,” Reich writes. “My mother moved to Los Angeles and my father stayed in New York. Since they arranged divided custody, I travelled back and forth by train frequently between New York and Los Angeles from 1939 to 1942 accompanied by my governess. While the trips were exciting and romantic at the time I now look back and think that, if I had been in Europe during this period, as a Jew I would have had to ride very different trains.”
The piece is in three movements, played without pause: America – Before the War; Europe – During the War; and After the War. The string players imitate the speech melodies and rhythms, with three separate quartet parts added to the tape.