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A Look Back at Music of Conscience

Posted June 11, 2019

In true musical fashion, Music of Conscience built to a powerful crescendo and finale this past weekend that still echoes in our ears, minds, and hearts. The World Premiere of David Lang’s prisoner of the state, “a streamlined, seething updating of [Beethoven’s] Fidelio” (The New York Times), perfectly capped our exploration of how music responds to social and political turmoil.

Here are some highlights, via video, photography, and social media.

The three-week Music of Conscience began with Music Director Jaap van Zweden conducting two works written in response to tyranny: Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony, about his struggles under Stalin, and Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, originally dedicated to Napoleon until the composer angrily redacted the inscription.

The following week, John Corigliano talked about his “personal response to the AIDS crisis” — his Symphony No. 1 — at The LGBT Community Center, which co-presented a free discussion about LGBTQ issues and art as activism with President and CEO Deborah Borda and archivist Richard Wandel. When the Philharmonic gave the symphony’s New York Premiere in 1992, the audience inscribed the names of loved ones who died of AIDS on a panel of the Nobel Peace Prize–nominated AIDS Memorial Quilt; that panel was on display at the discussion and during the Philharmonic’s performances of the symphony later that week.

John Corigliano joined Jaap van Zweden and the Philharmonic onstage after the reprise performances of his Symphony No. 1. “The Philharmonic ... held back nothing during din-like outbursts, yet also summoned shimmering sonorities during tender passages,” said The New York Times. “The music seemed like an in-the-moment response to tragic loss.”

After the final performance, John Corigliano presented a Nightcap concert of music by composers whose lives were cut short by AIDS, some of whom were his students.

The following afternoon, Philharmonic musicians performed contemporary music of conscience in a Sound ON concert hosted and curated by Kravis Creative Partner Nadia Sirota. The program: the World Premiere of Gabriella Smith’s Divisible, Caroline Shaw’s First Essay: Nimrod, David Lang’s spartan arcs and wiggle from memory pieces, the US Premiere of Judd Greenstein’s The Seeming Disorder of the Old City, and Steve Reich’s Different Trains.

The grand finale — and 2018–19 season finale — was the World Premiere of David Lang’s opera prisoner of the state, a retelling of Beethoven’s Fidelio, the story of a woman who disguises herself as a prison guard to rescue her husband from political imprisonment. In anticipation, the composer discussed his newest work with Deborah Borda at a free Insights at the Atrium event at Lincoln Center.

We invited some of our Instagram followers to join us behind the scenes before the premiere of prisoner of the state. Here's what they saw before the work was unveiled to the world: Instagram Story

Directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer and conducted by Jaap van Zweden, the fully staged production featured Julie Mathevet as The Assistant, tenor Alan Oke as The Governor, baritone Jarrett Ott as The Prisoner, and bass-baritone Eric Owens as The Jailer. In its review, The New York Times called prisoner of the state “a dark, seething and engrossing work” and “a high point of Mr. van Zweden’s first season as music director. Give him — and Deborah Borda, the orchestra’s visionary president — credit for thinking big.”

Check out photo highlights on Facebook:

 

Throughout the three-week Music of Conscience, we asked audience members to reflect on their personal music of conscience. Here are some of their responses: 

(Photos: Jennifer Taylor (Eroica), Michael DiVito (LGBT Center), Chris Lee)