Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

‘It’s a challenge to do’: PGSO on performing Grammy winning Different Trains

PGSO will perform the 27-minute piece for Holocaust Remembrance Day
Album artwork for Steve Reich's Different Trains.

The idea to perform the Grammy award winning Different Trains during the upcoming Chamber Social came from the players in the Prince George Symphony Orchestra (PGSO), themselves.

“It's a real sort of career defining opportunity to play this piece,” explains Ken Hall, PGSO’s Executive Director.

Different Trains is a string quartet with pre-recorded tape by noted American Jewish composer Steve Reich which won the 1989 grammy award for Best Contemporary Composition.  

It’s based on the memory of Reich who, as a young child, travelled back and forth between Los Angeles and New York by train from 1939 to 1942.

He said if he had been in Europe at that same time period, as a Jew, he would have had to ride a very different train.

The piece itself is quite a feat to perform and requires audio assistance.

“In the classical world, it's a very famous recording as well and it's a challenge to do, you have to do it with a live sound technician,” Hall said.

“When you're playing live with a pre-recorded track you can't get lost. It's very easy to get lost and because it's so repetitive and hypnotic, it's very difficult to find your place again.”

Reich is known as one of the great minimalist composers of the 20th century and as one of the few living composers who have altered the direction of musical history.

Hall explained that for Different Trains, Reich took some recordings of his childhood governess, who took him on his train trips when he was a kid, as well as archival recordings of Auschwitz survivors and used those various movements as the basis for the piece.

He also emulates the speech rhythm and the sound of the rain tracks through the music.  

 “The music actually follows the spoken words of these people is recording,” said Hall.  “There's also live string quartet, but they're actually playing with three other string quartets that are on the tape and that’s mixed up with the train sounds. So, the string players are also emulating sort of the rhythmic pulse of the train tracks and it's almost hypnotic.”

Hall said this performance is part of the PGSO’s Chamber Social series which is an attempt to have a concert in a more laid-back setting and is a good opportunity to try out pieces that are more challenging, such as Different Trains.

“There’s table seating, there's appetizers and a cash bar is a good opportunity for us to try out pieces like this that are challenging to listen to,” said Hall adding that Different Trains is really quite approachable compared to other 20th century music but it’s not a normal string quartet either.

“It demands focused listening, to follow what's going on and I'm really excited to see how our audience reacts to a piece like this, on this series, and if we can continue to push the envelope artistically with this series of concerts in coming years.”

Different Trains will be performed during the second half of the Chamber Social program with the first half being much lighter and with a bunch of short pieces and an American Wind quartet.

The event will also be attended by several member of the Prince George Jewish Community to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

PGSO’s Chamber Social will take place at Jan. 29 at 2 p.m. at the Hart Community Centre and Tickets and more information is available at or at 250-562-0800.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks