The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Does the cover art on the recording of composer Steve Reich’s new work about 9/11 cross the line of good taste? Let The Ear hear.

August 7, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday was the 66th anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima — a good time to remember acts that traumatize entire countries and civilizations. (It also comes as I am finishing up pioneering social psychologist Robert Jay Lifton‘s engaging memoir “Witness to an Extreme Century,” in which he offers informative, convincing and disturbing discussions of “nuclearism” and “totalism” as strategies of catastrophic destruction.)

In just over a month from now, the US will mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Of course, musically there will be many works by old masters played – one imagines hearing requiems by Mozart, Brahms, Verdi and Faure among others.

And there will surely be many orchestras that will play – as the Madison Symphony Orchestra will – John AdamsPulitzer Prize-winning work “On the Transmigration of Souls.”

But another contemporary commemoration is a new work – “WTC 9/11” by the American minimalist composer Steve Reich (below), who lived with his family near Ground Zero during the attacks.

Reich, who recently turned 75 and saw his birthday marked in many places and many ways, has nonetheless stirred up controversy with the album cover for the new Nonesuch CD (to be released Sept. 20 — and I ask why not in time for the anniversary?) that features the Kronos String Quartet doing triple duty in a work written for three string quartets.

The stark and engaging cover shows an airliner heading toward the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers that are smoking and on fire in a photo that had been artfully darkened and shaded.

Some people object to the explicit content – the airplane and the tower. They find that showing such realistic images to be insensitive to the event and the victims. And indeed, TV often seems to go out of its way not to replay video images of that fateful day – especially when the planes hit the skyscrapers and when the towers collapse, killing thousands.

Other people object to the artistic liberties that have been taken with the depiction of the real event.

Here are links to good stories about the controversy:

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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