13 Nov 2013

Lieberson – Remembering JFK (An American Elegy)

by Jeff counts

 Instrumentation: 3 flutes (3rd doubles piccolo), 2 oboes, 3 clarinets (3rd doubles bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, percussion, piano, harp, strings

Duration: 15 minutes.

 THE COMPOSER – PETER LIEBERSON (1946-2011) – American composer Peter Lieberson was best known for Neruda Songs, written for his wife Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and honored with the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition in 2008. Throughout his compositional career, Lieberson was heavily influenced by the tenets of Tibetan Buddhism and many of his works reflect the ideals of the faith’s enlightened leaders. But inspirational Buddhist figures were not the only important people to capture Lieberson’s attention.   

THE HISTORY – Lieberson was commissioned in 2010 to compose a commemorative work for the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Inauguration the following January. Intent on a work consisting of woven narration and orchestral color, Lieberson began to read through the collected speeches of JFK and, as quoted in Thomas May’s note for the National Symphony premiere, stated that he was “astonished that so much of what [Kennedy] said carried presentiments of what we need today.” It must have been a challenge to curate from such a wealth of possibilities but Lieberson chose to present excerpts from three of JFK’s most eloquent speeches. With the famous inaugural address serving as the centerpiece, the choices were designed to present a balanced image of Kennedy the man, leader and mythical icon. Lieberson summed up his text selections by acknowledging “there is an elegiac quality surrounding this inspirational figure, since in the end he was not able to accomplish so much of what he wanted. But there was also a practical element in his understanding of human nature that couples with the visionary. I chose speeches that reflect both.” Lieberson took further inspiration from the fourth of Brahms’ eleven Chorale Preludes, op. 122, an elegiac work entitled Herzlich tut mich erfreuen (“My Heart Rejoices”). Another wise choice by Lieberson.                                                                                                    

 THE WORLD – In addition to other important commemorations, 2011 saw the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program, civil war in Libya, the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan and the entry of Estonia into the Eurozone.

 THE CONNECTION – These concerts represent the Utah Symphony premiere of Remembering JFK.