Four days before his 80th birthday, Steve Reich came to Merseyside for a site-specific production of his Grammy-winning work Different Trains. Metal Liverpool organised and hosted the event, besides their creative hub on Edge Hill Station, in partnership with Southbank Centre, Culture Liverpool and Boiler Room.
Around 1,200 people braved the rain and the cold to watch the show, huddled up on a Victorian carriage ramp, as trains past on either side of the old, stone walls. Vinyl records by Herbie Hancock and Le Monte Young played in the background, whilst Pao! served healthy Asian street food.
Mats Bergström proceeded the main event, with a seamless rendition of Electric Counterpoint. The pulse of his guitar clear and textured, against the trains in motion.
Before the show, Reich was joined on stage by artist and filmmaker Bill Morrison, who created a film for the event – the first permitted by Reich to accompany his seminal score. Morrison joked about the size of the crowd and the unusual venue, comparing the evening to a rave.
London Contemporary Orchestra closed the night, with their gorgeous performance of Different Trains: a three-movement piece for string quartet and tape that honours victims of the Holocaust. The ensemble played under a projection of Morrison’s film, whose icy beauty matched the tone of the composition.
During the first movement, America-Before the War, archive footage of steam trains passing snowy ferns met clips of civilians walking beside railroads in droves. The words “from New York to Los Angeles” looping over the strings.
The second act, Europe-During the War, featured audio samples of interviews with three Holocaust survivors. Morrison didn’t shy away from addressing the narrative’s root. His film turned to crippling portraits of endless rows of prisoners, packed behind barbed steel fences, in concentration camps. Children bared their numbered forearms, nuns walked alongside families in stripes and oily men smoked in segregation.
After the War, the third movement, saw the film turn back to images of trains, with well-dressed passengers disembarking carriages and rushing across platforms. Close to the end of the score, a suited man noticed the camera filming him, all those years ago, and briefly danced for the viewers. His innocent gesture an understated way of closing a deeply affecting, emotive performance.
In commissioning a new collaboration between two legendary artists, Metal Liverpool have raised their local profile and further reinforced Merseyside’s international reputation. Their event was warmly received. It is bound to be fondly remembered.
From now until October 15th, Morrison’s film will be played alongside Different Trains in the Accumulator Tower on Platform One of Edge Hill Station, to celebrate the anniversary of the world’s first passenger railway journey in 1830. A journey that started in Liverpool and ended in Manchester.
Simon Ward is a writer based in Liverpool
Photo Credit: Mark McNulty