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The Arts Respond: Expressing emotions the classical music way

Sunday, September 08, 2002

By Andrew Druckenbrod, Post-Gazette classical music critic

With the ease at which emotions flow into music, be it a composer's score or a band's four-track, it's little wonder there's been an explosion of musical responses to the Sept. 11 attacks.

David Stock's classical response to the 9/11 attacks is the wind symphony "Nine-One-One." (Gabor Degre, Post-Gazette)

Through just a quick survey of the American Composer's Forum, the American Music Center, Musicians for Harmony and the Kalvos & Damian Web site, more than 30 commemorative works surfaced that were already composed, many of which have already been performed.

"There have been a ton," said Philip Blackburn of the Composer's Forum.

"Music is the international language and vehicle for bringing people together throughout the world," said Allegra Klein, executive director of the New York-based Musicians for Harmony. "At and after Sept. 11, everyone felt so helpless and powerless, we wanted to find a way to bring consolation and to be a catalyst for change in world thought."

The music of response runs the gamut from previously written works newly dedicated to 9/11, such as Richard Danielpour's "An American Requiem" (out on Reference Recordings), to commissioned works, such as "On the Transmigration of Souls" by John Adams (to be performed by the New York Philharmonic). Works also range in type from large orchestral scores (Adams) to chamber works (David Stock's wind symphony, "Nine-One-One") to computer music (Tim Conrardy's "Metal Bird").

More Online
The American Symphony Orchestra League has organized a web reference to symphony performances around the country marking the events of 9/11. Click here to view the League's updated listings.


Judging from the composers' descriptions of their music, it's obvious that most of it was borne out of their need to express profound shock at the attacks. Conrardy says that "completing the piece was an emotional experience -- as if I was reliving the events as they happened." Composer Misha Stefanuk stated on kalvos.org, "For almost a day, I did not think I wanted to be creative ever again. And, a day later, I find myself writing music trying to deal with the WTC bombing." He wrote a piece called "World Trade Center." Says composer David Heuser, who wrote "Elegy": "I was unable to write anything but this piece in the weeks after Sept. 11."

On the surface, this might seem selfish -- memorial music is supposed to heal others, isn't it? That is a tradition of music, whether intended or not (witness Barber's "Adagio for Strings"). But in many ways, sincere and personal responses translate best to the healing of others. As one composer, Phil Jackson, stated, "Strong emotions are best expressed through music."

One local composer, Bernard Tavis, wrote "In Memory" for victims of the terror attacks. Tavis has sent a CD that contains the work free to "individuals who were directly affected by the attacks, or are involved in supporting or organizing activities to commemorate the first anniversary."

Composition is not the only response to tra-gedy, of course. Performances of any appropriate music can be a spiritual salve for even those that don't normally listen to classical music.

Locally, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will give a benefit concert for the Somerset County Flight 93 Memorial Fund. "A Concert for Heroes" features Mahler's Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection." The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11 at Heinz Hall. Other groups also are remembering the event, including the McKeesport Symphony Orchestra's concert at the McKeesport Area High School, also at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 11, with free admission.

New York, of course, is a focal point for memorial concerts. The music label Hanssler just released a disc of Haydn Masses by the Choir of Trinity Church, Wall Street, which felt the brunt of the Twin Towers' collapse. Musicians for Harmony will present a concert at Merkin Hall on Sept. 10 featuring the Guarneri, Juilliard and Shanghai quartets. And the New York Philharmonic premieres Adams' work on Sept. 19.

And a group of Seattle vocalists has organized worldwide performances that will involve choirs from Seattle to Boston to Latvia singing Mozart's "Requiem" at 8:46 a.m. PDT on Sept. 11, lamenting the onset of the attacks and uniting the world in harmony.

Reach Andrew Druckenbrod at adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750.

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