5 Classical Works Inspired By 9/11

Earlier this week, the Washington Post‘s Anne Midgette weighed in on the litany of commemorative concerts occurring in honour of the 9/11 anniversary: “how many commemorations do we need before we’re ready to move on, how many performances of Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony, which appears to be the classical answer to “God Bless America,” an unofficial anthem of memorial?”

It’s an intriguing question. Yet in the ten years that have passed, the classical world have unfurled new works that specifically deal with the tragedy, focusing upon the lament and sorrow we still feel today. In honor of this sad anniversary, we look to 5 Classical works that have attempted to provide insight into the deep wounds of 9/11.


THE COMPOSER: Steve Reich
THE PIECE: “WTC 9/11″ (2011)
THE APPROACH: Composer Steve Reich utilizes not only his compositional voice, but a “speech melody” from documentary recordings of those who witnessed the tragic events of September 11, 2001. So in the midst of the clear anxiety contained in Reich’s abstract instrumental, you hear the voices of New York firefighters and NORAD air-traffic controllers, pulling together — in the words of NPR‘s Anastasia Tsioulcas — ”a work of terrible sorrow and haunting power.”
THE CRITICAL RESPONSE: “As he did with “Different Trains,’’ Reich generates the musical material directly from the sampled voices, and it’s the rigor and directness of the voice-music connection – and the apparent lack of artifice – that makes for the work’s stark power,” commends Boston Globe music critic Jeremy Eichler.


THE COMPOSER: John Adams
THE PIECE: “On The Transmigration of Souls” (2002)
THE APPROACH: Adams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning work achieves a soaring incantatory effect, hypnotically recalling a litany of 9/11 victims’ names that gentle rise and fall amidst an increasingly cluttered soundscape. Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, it was the first major response from the concert music sphere to the terrorist attacks.
THE CRITICAL RESPONSE: “Adams has composed a work that hearkens back not only to the events of that day, but to any tragedy – man-made or natural – in which scores of lives are unexpectedly and meaninglessly lost,” reviews Raymond Tuttle of Classical Net. “There is no talk of God and no flag-waving, only a gaping space that those who remain behind try to fill, each in his or her own way.”


THE COMPOSER: John Corigliano
THE PIECE: “One Sweet Morning” (2005)
THE APPROACH: “It’s based on four poems about war,” explains the New York-based Corigliano to NPR. “Not specifically about 9/11, but about the tragedy of war.” The poems — ranging from The Illiad to am E.Y. Harburg work of the same name — come together for an anti-war piece that was first performed with the Young People’s Chorus of New York City.
THE CRITICAL RESPONSE: “He’s written this marvelous piece … that reflects on many things, but in particular, finding hope in the midst of tragedy,” comments New York Philharmonic musical director Alan Gilbert.


THE COMPOSER: David Del Tredici
THE PIECE: “Missing Towers (Perpetual Canon)” (2004)
THE APPROACH: “Missing Towers” came out of Del Tredici’s broader Gotham Glory suite, which was his own “idiosyncratic” take on living in New York for more than 40 years. “Missing Towers” is mysterious in his attempt to re-create the ghostly space where the Twin Towers use to exist, and will be performed at the much-anticipated Music After concert at New York City’s Joyce SoHo this Sunday. “It’s all very soft, but at the very end to emphasize even more that they were gone, I go inside the piano. I leave the keys and go inside the piano for a weaker more ephemeral, vanishing sound,” he explains in the above video.
THE CRITICAL RESPONSE: “The composer continues his recent preoccupation with exploring the aesthetic and sound of Romantic piano music, especially that of Schumann and Liszt,” writes New York TImes‘ Anthony Tommasini.


THE COMPOSER: Christopher Theofanidis
THE PIECE: “Heart Of A Soldier” (2011)
THE APPROACH: In 2002, the New Yorker told the utterly tragic yet brave story of Rick Rescorla security chief for Morgan Stanley who anticipated both attacks on the towers and implemented evacuation procedures that are credited with saving many lives. American composer Theofanidis — the Seattle Times calls him “one of the world’s most sought-after living composers” — turned this brave story into an opera for the much-in-demand baritone singer Thomas Hampson as Rescorla, which will premiere on September 10th at the San Francisco Opera.
THE CRITICAL RESPONSE: “Opera is always a slice of history,” Hampson shared with the Classical Review. “It’s a story driven by a human dilemma.”


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