Festival of American Music: Journeys of Faith


Classics 06 – Festival of American Music: Journeys of Faith 1

By Laurie Shulman 8 2022

First North American Serial Rights Only



Masaot/Clocks Without Hands (2013)

Olga Neuwirth

Born 4 August 1968 in Graz, Austria


Olga Neuwirth began composing as a teenager in her native Austria. She garnered early recognition: some of her pieces were performed at the 1985 Styrian Autumn Festival, an annual celebration of the avant-garde in the arts. She pursued her higher education in the USA, matriculating at the San Francisco Conservatory from 1986-87; she also studied painting and cinema at San Francisco Art College. After returning to Austria in 1987, Neuwirth enrolled at the Vienna Hochschüle für Musik, where she studied with Erich Urbanner, Dieter Kaufmann, and Wilhelm Zobl. She then worked in Paris at IRCAM [an international center of electro-acoustical and avant-garde music] with Tristan Murail. Her interests include literature, cinema, and painting, all of which lend her music diverse layers and sometimes multi-media elements.


Masaot/Clocks Without Hands originated in a 2010 commission from the Vienna Philharmonic for a work commemorating the centennial of Gustav Mahler’s death. Imminent deadlines for two operas forced Neuwirth to decline, but the idea had caught her imagination. She has written:


When the commission was postponed until 2015, I decided I did not, want to drop the idea from 2010 of reflecting on Mahler. In the interim I had also had a dream that triggered the “musical turbulences” for my orchestral work.


My grandfather . . .  whom I only knew through photos and my grandmother’s stories, appeared to me in a dream. In the sunlit meadow of the Danube, with its rippling water, the wind moved myriads of green blades of grass in a strip of tangled reeds. My grandfather was standing in the midst of the grass, and playing one song after another to me on an old crackling tape recorder. He said: “From the start, I was strikingly different. I was an outsider and never entirely fit into my Austrian surroundings. All my life I had the feeling of being excluded. Listen to these songs: this is my story.” He had fallen out of time and was sharing this with me.


This dream had moved me so much that I wanted to process it by writing a composition, because for me writing has anyway always to do with memory. The idea was for it to seem as if you were listening to something being dreamt, as if you yourself were dreaming while listening.


Masaot/Clocks without Hands can be seen as a poetic reflection on how memories fade. The piece combines recurrent fragments of melodies from very different places and experiences from my grandfather’s life. It is a “shaped stream of memories”. The composition develops a “grid” in which song fragments resound and are recombined. Concurrently, there is a “musical object”, based on metronome beats, that makes time audible and perceptible. Just like on a spinning carousel, these metronome beats appear and disappear. Yet unlike on a carousel, they do not remain the same; they change each time through a slight shift in context and the superposition of various tempi. Through this “ticking of the metronome”, through this time’s externally regulated pulsation, time itself becomes a subjectively timeless realm of the subconscious. Ultimately, time appears to dissolve: clocks without hands.


My grandfather was born in a city by the sea that had had a turbulent history: at times the city was under Venetian rule, while at others it was under Croatian-Hungarian rule. He later grew up in the Danube River Basin, on the border between Croatia and Hungary. So maybe my grandfather felt the same way as Canetti, who wrote about his childhood on the Danube: “As a child I had no real grasp of the variety, but I never stopped feeling its effects.”(2) And “… I consist of many people whom I am not at all aware of.”(3) Thus this piece was for me about the many different (musical) stories heard and carried to sea by the river: in my case, the Danube.


Back to Mahler. After its world premiere, his First Symphony was called “Katzenmusik” (caterwauling or cacophony) and criticized for eclecticism. But that was precisely what interested me! I wanted to explore this musical phenomenon, and the “ancient fragrance from fabled times” – specifically, the childhood and adolescence of my grandfather on the Danube. I wanted to look back at the world of Kakanian heritage from the perspective of my present life. In the search for identity and origin. Perhaps this piece is the ironic and melancholic “swan song” of an Austrian composer who feels “in a negative sense free” to compose whatever she wants and so feels close to Robert Musil’s “man without qualities”.


Masaot/Clocks without Hands evolved out of the multi-voiced sound of my fragmented origins and my desire for an uninterrupted flow, determined throughout the piece by constantly interchanging cells.


To me “Heimat” (homeland, native country) is something nebulous. In Masaot/Clocks without Hands I try to respond to the idea of someone having “several homelands”, namely, by composing music that is both native and foreign. Familiar and unfamiliar sounds, beyond any form of Kakanian nostalgia, in the impossible attempt to stop time by composing.

Olga Neuwirth



Neuwirth’s score is a sort of Austrian analogue to some of Charles Ives’s eclectic scores, in which raucous popular elements keep company with more traditional “classical” sonorities and unorthodox sound effects such as sliding pitches. The result is a glorious cacophony that can resemble a Jackson Pollack spatter painting, or a cinematic dream sequence with one image dissolving almost immediately before another comes into focus. Sometimes we hear the clangor of an old-fashioned clock chiming, or the whirr of a thousand grackle wings – or is it our imagination playing mind games? Attentive listeners will hear snippets of Viennese café fiddlers and street bands – a glimpse of the Kakanian world she cites. (The term refers to late Habsburg, fin-de-siècle Vienna; it has come to symbolize the era’s complex social hierarchy.) So, as Neuwirth writes, one lets herself dream while listening, and allow the soundscapes to take shape and dissipate, then reshape themselves.


The score calls for piccolo, 2 flutes, 3 oboes, B-flat clarinet, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 3 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion [tubular bells, 3 gongs, 10 cymbals, 3 tom tomes, 3 suspended cymbals, 6 cowbells, 2 woodblocks, 2 toy ratchets, 3 metronomes, metal guïro with metal brush, Japanese bells, glockenspiel, small snare drum, large drum, 2 triangles, jingle bundle, temple bells, tam-tam, and vibraphone], celesta, and strings.




When I found out I was accepted into the Creator Corps program, one of my first thoughts was, “I hope they’ll let me write a synthesizer concerto about the Earth and perform the synthesizer part, even though I’ve never soloed with an orchestra and I don’t know a lot about nature.” Thankfully, Teddy and the LO team welcomed my idea without hesitation.


Not having much time to compose the piece, I found myself turning to nature whenever and wherever I could for inspiration. The most vibrant memories I have were playing in my yard with my cat under a big tree, watching brightly colored sunsets while driving down I-65, visiting Seneca Park with Tyler Taylor and hitting stones against each other to see how they sounded, harvesting kale in my yard, walking past the autumn red trees in Shelby Park during a rainstorm, and watching a flock of birds flying in a V formation over Logan Street Market. I found so much beauty and joy in collecting inspiration in Louisville, and I believe that the spirit of these little moments made their way into the piece.


One of the most formative parts of my writing process was being able to stay at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. My time at Bernheim consisted of a few dreamy days of hiking interspersed with fervent writing. Instead of feeding off of my mostly urban surroundings, I was able to exist and create in an environment that immediately felt gradual, spiritual, balanced, cleansing, and focused. During a rehearsal, Lisa Bielawa leaned over and said to me, “This piece isn’t working in musical time. It’s working in nature time.”


I want to extend a ginormous thank you to Jenny Zeller and Hannah Coleman-Zaitzeff of the Bernheim Forest for setting up my stay, Teddy Abrams and Jacob Gotlieb for their support, the entire LO team for their dedication, and Lisa and Tyler for their incredible friendship.

Symphony No.3, Kaddish (1963, revised 1977)

Leonard Bernstein

Born 25 August, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts

Died 14 October, 1990 in New York City


None of Leonard Bernstein’s symphonies conforms to what we might think of as a “typical” symphony, viz., a large work for full orchestra, generally in four movements. His first symphony, Jeremiah, sets a text from the Bible’s Book of Lamentations for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, in three movements. His second symphony, The Age of Anxiety (which we hear next weekend on this Festival of American Music), is based on the poetry of W.H. Auden and features a prominent role for solo piano; it is in two large parts, each of which subdivides into three sections. His third symphony, Kaddish, combines text from the Jewish Prayer for the dead – sung in both Aramaic and Hebrew – with a substantial narrated text that Bernstein wrote himself. The performing forces for Kaddish are enormous, comprising speaker, solo soprano, boys’ chorus, and mixed chorus in addition to large orchestra. And the structure is even more complex than Bernstein’s prior two symphonies.

The symphony originated as a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation celebrating the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 75th anniversary in 1955-56. Bernstein did not complete it in time for the celebration. Multiple other commitments intervened, including his music directorship of the New York Philharmonic and the impending opening of Lincoln Center in New York City. His work on it was sporadic: during a summer holiday at Martha’s Vineyard in 1961and at the MacDowell Colony in 1962. The following year, he moved his family to a property in Fairfield, Connecticut, where he finished drafting Kaddish. By the time he completed the orchestration in late autumn 1963, John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Bernstein chose to dedicate the work to the memory of the martyred President.


He also decided that the premiere should take place in Israel. The Boston Symphony graciously relinquished its rights to the first performance, which took place in Tel Aviv that December, with the composer conducting. Bernstein’s text for the narrator was translated into Hebrew for the occasion. The Boston premiere followed in January 1964, led by Charles Munch.


Kaddish is the Hebrew prayer for the dead. Jews recite it at graveside, in temple, and at home at times of mourning and loss. The prayer glorifies God, affirming life and seeking eternal peace. Curiously, it does not mention death. Bernstein’s symphonic setting is more like an oratorio than a symphony. It consists of three settings of the Kaddish prayer, each for different performing forces and, more importantly, communicating different moods. The trajectory is from darkness to light and joy. An Invocation opens the symphony, introducing the questioning, troubled voice of the Speaker imploring that God listen. It is followed by the first Kaddish. Next is a section called Din Torah, a fundamental principle of Jewish law that mandates resolution of disputes between two Jews. Now the narration is accusatory and angry, establishing Bernstein’s meditation on loss of faith in an era of death and destruction. (One must remember that Bernstein wrote Kaddish at the height of the Cold War.)


The second Kaddish, for harp, soprano solo, and women’s chorus, is plaintive and quiet, almost like a lullaby. It gives way to a Scherzo that scampers and skitters, rife with nervous woodwinds and orchestral piano, while strings play mostly pizzicato. In this section, the Speaker makes clear that the roles have altered. Now the Speaker asks God to renew faith in humankind. A joyous boys’ choir introduces the third iteration of Kaddish, leading without pause to the Finale. Its anguished, tortured opening eases into quieter, more meditative music of a Mahlerian cast. The Speaker makes his peace, and Kaddish concludes with a jazzy Fugue that is a close cousin to the music of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. At the end, a wiser person has been reborn.


Kaddish is an ambitious and sprawling work, encompassing the musical diaspora in which Bernstein lived. He flirts with twelve-tone music and borrows freely from jazz and American dance rhythms. He asks his chorus to clap, snap fingers, and stomp their feet as well as sing. Popular-style melodies metamorphose into complex counterpoint. The music vacillates between tonality and atonality. Early on, Bernstein had written to his sister Shirley about the text, “Collaboration with a poet is impossible on so personal a work.” Ultimately, his music is as personal as his speaker’s words: one man’s struggle with the issue of faith.


The score calls for four flutes (third doubling alto flute; fourth doubling piccolo), two oboes, English horn, two B-flat clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, tuba, also saxophone, timpani, a large percussion complement [bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, tenor drum, field drum, triangle, tambourine, tam tam, glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone, chimes, crotales, woodblock, temple block, whip, ratchet, Israeli hand drum, sandblocks, 3 bongos, rasp, two suspended cymbals, finger cymbals, and maracas], harp, piano (doubling celesta), speaker, soprano solo, mixed chorus, boys’ chorus, and strings.



Classics 07 – Festival of American Music: Journeys of Faith 2

By Laurie Shulman 8 2022

First North American Serial Rights Only



Atlanta-based Joel Thompson is only in his 30s, but he has already made a name for himself as a composer. To Awaken the Sleeper, for narrator and orchestra, was a co-commission from the Colorado Music Festival and the Louisiana Philharmonic. Thompson chose texts from the writings of James Baldwin, which he describes as “a beacon for me, a source of comfort: a way for me to focus my craft.”  Thompson’s instrumental interludes between narrated passages serve as meditations on Baldwin’s words; for example, when he speaks of “ignorance, allied with power” we hear ominous military music underscored by snare drum. Later, a reference to “seas of blood” evokes the Civil War with a fleeting quotation from “Dixie.” Ultimately Baldwin’s text and Thompson’s music challenge us to redefine ourselves with a new behavioral vocabulary that both accepts today’s reality and makes for a better future. That challenge is powered by hope and determination.


To Awaken the Sleeper

Joel Thompson (b.1988)

Joel Thompson might still technically be a doctoral candidate at the Yale School of Music, but he already has established a substantial reputation as a composer. Born and based in Atlanta, he is best known for his choral work Seven Last Words of the Unarmed (2015), which won the 2018 American Prize for Choral Composition. Before matriculating in Yale’s doctoral program, he earned degrees in Music and Choral Conducting from Atlanta’s Emory University. Thompson has taught at Atlanta’s Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School and served as Director of Choral Studies at Andrew College in Cuthbert, Georgia from 2013 to 2015. Thompson’s opera, The Snowy Day was premiered by the Houston Grand Opera in December 2021.


Obviously vocal works are central to Thompson’s involvement with music, and hence to his compositions. To Awaken the Sleeper was a co-commission from the Colorado Music Festival and the Louisiana Philharmonic. Peter Oundjian conducted the premiere in August, 2021. Thompson turned to the writings of James Baldwin for his text. He has said, “Given the sort of turmoil as it relates to race in our society, Baldwin’s writings were sort of a beacon for me, a source of comfort: a way for me to focus my craft.” Thompson has incorporated Baldwin’s text into his music an analogous way to Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait. His composer’s note follows.



The insightful and prophetic words of James Baldwin have always been a source of solace for me, and never more so than during the last few years as the country has been forced to grapple with its identity. When [I was] commissioned to write a piece for Peter Oundjian and the Colorado Music Festival in 2020, it felt like the perfect opportunity to amplify his words. James Baldwin sought to bear witness to the country that birthed him and hated him, a country that murdered his friends (Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X) for speaking out against injustice. Despite the pain of those wounds, it is evident that, although Baldwin didn’t hesitate to hold our deeply flawed society to account, his words were rooted in an impossible love of this country. Though they were written decades ago, his words still ring true. Today, Baldwin asks us to look in the mirror and reckon with what we see. He asks us to examine the nature of power and its dependence on human will and desire. He asks us to go to “the unprotected” among us in order to examine our supposed love for justice. I like to think that if he were to reword his proposal today, he would include the immigrant, the refugee, the trans person, those without bodily autonomy under the law, and those suffering in the thrall of poverty. Baldwin acknowledges all the messiness and failure and genocide and death that has brought us to this point and he asks us to build a new world where we truly value and support each other in all of our differences. It is in that spirit that the piece was born, and I hope that same spirit can continue to move each of us toward a more perfect union.                                                         – J.T.




Thompson’s score opens with cacophony – the futile effort to awaken the sleeper – alternating with calm, diatonic brass chords and quiet timpani strokes, which suggest the sleeper’s metaphorical oblivion. These disparate sounds alternate, neither decisively established, setting up the narrator’s first declamation.


Thompson is careful to pare down his orchestra when the narrator speaks, so that the text is clearly audible. Instrumental interludes serve as meditations on Baldwin’s words; for example, when he speaks of “ignorance, allied with power” we hear ominous military music underscored by snare drum. Later, a reference to “seas of blood” evokes the Civil War with a fleeting quotation from “Dixie.” Ultimately Baldwin’s text and Thompson’s music challenge us to redefine ourselves with a new behavioral vocabulary that can bear the weight of reality and make for a better future. That challenge is powered by hope and determination.


Thompson’s score calls for two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, two trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion [marimba, suspended cymbal, crash cymbals, bass drum, tam tam, snare drum, and tenor drum]; harp, narrator, and strings.


Leonard Bernstein’s provocative subtitle for his Second Symphony, “The Age of Anxiety,” is drawn from a poem by W.H. Auden. Written in the 1940s, it explores the empty lives of three men and one woman who meet in a New York City bar. All four are trying to solve their problems through drinking. They take a taxi back to the woman’s apartment, lapsing into a collective melancholy on the way. Upon arrival at her place, they embark on a wild party, attempting to recapture the gaiety that drew them together at the bar. Eventually the guilt of their escapist living yields to spiritual faith.


Bernstein’s symphony comprises two large parts, each subdivided into three sections. Part I consists of a Prologue, ‘The Seven Ages,’ and ‘The Seven Stages.’ Part II opens with a Dirge, followed by Masque and a concluding Epilogue. The Age of Anxiety contains no vocal music. Bernstein suggests all the action and human interplay of Auden’s poem using purely instrumental means. He took Auden’s poem as a point of departure rather than as a literal programme. The prominent solo piano part, which reaches its zenith in Part II’s Masque section, derives from Bernstein’s sense of personal identification with the poem: the pianist as autobiographical protagonist. The Epilogue – his closing expression of faith — brings the journey to a satisfying end. It is the symphony’s ultimate message.




Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety”

Leonard Bernstein

Born 25 August, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts

Died 14 October, 1990 in New York City


More than many of his contemporaries, W.H. Auden served as the poetic conscience of his era, marrying trenchant insight into popular culture with high technical and literary standards.  “The Age of Anxiety: a Baroque Eclogue,” a poem he wrote in the 1940s, explores the empty lives of three men and one woman who meet in a New York City bar.  It is representative of Auden’s work in that it demonstrates his flair for capturing everyday speech and provocative psychological portraits. Leonard Bernstein chose Auden’s work as the inspiration for his Second Symphony, “The Age of Anxiety.” He described the poem as “an essay in loneliness,” using it as a point of departure rather than a literal programme for his symphony.


All three of Bernstein’s symphonies break from the tradition of four instrumental movements in some significant way.  The first, “Jeremiah” (1942), for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, consists of three movements:  Prophecy, Profanation and Lamentation.  The second symphony, “Age of Anxiety” (1947-49, revised 1965) for piano and orchestra, is based on Auden’s poem; and the third, “Kaddish” (1963, revised 1977) draws its title and spirit from the Jewish prayer for the dead, and is for orchestra, mixed chorus, boys’ choir, speaker and soprano solo.  Clearly, programmatic associations were of prime importance to Bernstein. Indeed, his most lasting contribution to music was arguably in the realm of theater. The Second Symphony is a prime instrumental example.  In its published preface, Bernstein pleaded guilty to any charge of “theatricality.”


The prominent solo piano part featured in “The Age of Anxiety” is a conception the composer explained as deriving from his strong sense of personal identification with Auden’s poem.


In this sense, the pianist provides an almost autobiographical protagonist, set against an orchestral mirror in which he sees himself, analytically, in the modern ambience.  The work is therefore no “concerto” in the virtuosic sense. . . . No one could be more astonished than I at the extent to which the programmaticism of this work has been carried.



The Age of Anxiety consists of two large parts, each subdivided into three sections.  Part I consists of a Prologue, “The Seven Ages,” and “The Seven Stages,” which are double sets of variations exploring personal points of view on life’s journey.  Part II opens with a Dirge. It is followed by Masque, the symphony’s best known segment. It represents wild drinking and dancing in the woman’s apartment after she invites the three men back for a nightcap.


This movement is the piano’s moment to shine.  Strongly syncopated rhythms and a motoric pulse lend it a frenetic, jazzy feel that readily communicates the alcohol-induced artifice and gaiety of the scene.  Bernstein described it as “a scherzo for piano and percussion alone, in which a kind of fantastic piano-jazz is employed, by turns nervous, sentimental, self-satisfied, vociferous.”  Years later, he wrote of this wonderful movement:

I recently discovered — upon re-examining the Masque movement — that it actually strikes four o’clock!  Now there is no mention of four o’clock in the poem; there is only the feeling that it is very late at night, that everyone is tired, that the jokes are petering out, and that everyone is valiantly trying to keep them going.  So we find the music petering out, while the celesta strikes four as naïvely as day and the percussion instruments cheerfully make a new stab at energetic gaiety.  I was pleasantly surprised to find this in the score, since I had not really written it.  It had simply been put there by some inner sense of theatricality.


Masque is played without pause between the other two segments of Part II.  It is followed by Epilogue, which closes The Age of Anxiety with an expression of faith.


Bernstein’s score calls for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion battery (snare drum, bass drum, tenor drum, tam-tam, cymbal, temple blocks, triangle, glockenspiel, xylophone, celesta), two harps, pianino, solo piano, and strings.



Tyler Taylor



Revisions draws its inspiration from the historical relationship – or lack thereof – between the saxophone and the orchestra. In Europe, the instrument’s creator Adolph

Sax was known as an arrogant and difficult man whose new and advanced instruments threatened to disrupt the scene as it was. His reputation, alongside the performers’ general fear and distrust of change, kept his instruments from being widely used at the time. In early 20th century America, the saxophone had become an instrument associated with Jazz and black expressions of music, and therefore associated with a race of people who were viewed as inferior by a majority in the classical scene. Classical music institutions, the orchestra being a prime example, were not known for welcoming these expressions, or things associated with them, into their traditions. In both cases, the saxophone was viewed as a potential threat – unworthy infiltrators of something sacred. Thus, the saxophone, with few exceptions, became a family of instruments othered by the orchestra.

I have experienced the residue of this attitude toward the saxophone in my lifetime with composers and performers frequently perpetuating the erroneous idea that saxophones do not blend well with orchestral instruments and therefore do not belong. The saxophone’s specifically engineered ability to blend well with orchestral instruments, in addition to the tremendous strides made by saxophone players in the last 50 years, has proven the instrument to be extremely versatile and valuable in many contexts including the symphony orchestra. Even still, we rarely see them included.

Lately, I have thought about how an instrument or a group of instruments’ “meaning” or connotation can be used to inform dramatic musical scenarios. In a broad sense, these scenarios create abstract analogies for social-political happenings. In the case of Revisions, the saxophone’s history comes charged with immense dramatic and symbolic potential. The presence of the saxophone quartet, seated alongside the string section principals, creates a dramatic tension within the orchestra as part of a scenario that explores power dynamics, unity, division, companionship, and finding a sense of place.

I offer Revisions to you with many thanks to Teddy Abrams and the Louisville Orchestra for their trust in and commitment to my work, and to my fellow Creators Lisa and TJ for their unending support and friendship.