The New York Philharmonic will conclude the 2018–19 subscription season with Music of Conscience, three weeks of concerts and events exploring the ways in which composers have used music to respond to the social and political issues of their times, from May 22 to June 8.
Music Director Jaap van Zweden will conduct all three orchestral programs: the World Premiere of David Lang’s opera prisoner of the state, a retelling of Beethoven’s Fidelio; John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1, his “personal response to the AIDS crisis”; and Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony, about his struggles under Stalin, alongside Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, originally dedicated to Napoleon until the composer angrily redacted the inscription.
Music of Conscience will also feature two new-music programs, an archival exhibit of panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt on display, and free public discussions and performances. Partners include The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, the International Rescue Committee, Stonewall 50 Consortium, and El Puente.
Also, the New York Philharmonic Archives will present the exhibit Music of Conscience: The Orchestral World Responds in the Bruno Walter Gallery on David Geffen Hall’s Grand Promenade from May 16 to June 8. Since the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, the New York Philharmonic has used music to speak to the political and cultural crises of the day. This exhibit examines the New York Philharmonic’s history of politics in the concert hall, as well as how other major orchestras and musicians have responded to current events. Highlights include:
Audience letters reacting to the performance of German music — “music of the enemy” — during World War I
A letter from New York Philharmonic musicians to Arturo Toscanini thanking him for his stance against Fascism during World War II
Bernstein’s marked score of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, Resurrection, used for the first television broadcast of a Mahler symphony in memory of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, in November 1963
Photographs from the New York Philharmonic’s, Boston Symphony Orchestra’s, and The Philadelphia Orchestra’s visits to China and the USSR during the Cold War
Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, Eroica
Music of Conscience will open with Jaap van Zweden leading two works written in opposition to tyrants: Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, Eroica, on May 22–23, 25, and 28. Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony (orchestrated by Barshai) derives from his String Quartet No. 8, written in three days while the composer was visiting Dresden 15 years after it was razed in an Allied bombing. The quartet is inscribed “in memory of victims of fascism and war,” although Shostakovich was later quoted as saying that it was actually autobiographical, about his struggles and terror under Stalin. Beethoven initially dedicated his Eroica Symphony to Napoleon, but angrily scratched out the dedication when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor, denouncing him as “a tyrant … who will think himself superior to all men.” The disillusioned composer then inscribed the manuscript to “the memory of a great man.”
John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1; Brahms’s Tragic Overture; Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 with David Fray
In the second Music of Conscience program, Jaap van Zweden will conduct John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 on May 30 and June 1. The symphony is his “personal response to the AIDS crisis” and was inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The New York Philharmonic gave the symphony’s New York Premiere in January 1992 in a program “dedicated to those who have died of AIDS, those who are living with AIDS, and those who help and support them.” The program will also feature Brahms’s Tragic Overture and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24, with David Fray as soloist.
As part of this second program, the New York Philharmonic and The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center will co-present “Art and LGBTQ Activism: Music with a Social Conscience,” on May 29 at The LGBT Community Center, a free public discussion of LGBTQ issues and art as activism with composer John Corigliano, Philharmonic President and CEO Deborah Borda, and moderator Rich Wandel, The Center’s founding archivist, longtime activist, and former New York Philharmonic Associate Archivist. The discussion will be preceded by a performance.
Audience members at the New York Premiere of John Corigliano’s First Symphony inscribed the names of AIDS victims they knew on a fabric panel that then became part of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and remains the world’s largest community art project. That panel — as well as other panels honoring New York City musicians who died of AIDS — will be on display on the David Geffen Hall Grand Promenade during the May 30 and June 1 performances and at the free public discussion at The LGBT Community Center on May 29.
The free public discussion and the New York Philharmonic’s performances of John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 are part of the official celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, under the auspices of the Stonewall 50 Consortium.
World Premiere of Philharmonic Co-Commission of David Lang’s prisoner of the state
Music of Conscience will conclude with the World Premiere of David Lang’s opera prisoner of the state (co-commissioned by the New York Philharmonic in collaboration with Rotterdam’s de Doelen and London’s Barbican, Barcelona’s l’Auditori, Bochum Symphony Orchestra, and Bruges’s Concertgebouw), June 6–8. With a libretto by the composer that self-consciously refers to Beethoven’s opera, Fidelio, prisoner of the state tells the story of a woman who disguises herself as a prison guard to rescue her husband from unjust political imprisonment. The fully staged production will feature the Philharmonic debuts of soprano Julie Mathevet as The Assistant, tenor Alan Oke as The Leader, and baritone Jarrett Ott as The Prisoner, as well as bass-baritone Eric Owens as The Jailor. It will be directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer — who has directed works for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and Boston Lyric Opera, among others — in her Philharmonic debut.
David Lang said: “prisoner of the state is built on the skeleton of Beethoven’s opera, Fidelio. I began with the various versions of Beethoven’s libretto, looking for things that I thought were odd or interesting, and then I wrote my libretto to comment on them. The characters of the original, the story, the performance history — all of these became meaningful for me to think about, to comment on, and to adapt. Fidelio has a long tradition of being presented in concert rather than staged, and since my piece is a comment on all aspects of the original I wanted to have prisoner of the state float in between these two worlds, between the opera house and the concert hall. It is a fully staged opera with a symphony orchestra on stage.”
For more information, tickets, and additional events as part of this season-concluding program, visit the New York Philharmonic website.