»Age of Anxiety« is the title of the festival where the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra highlights 20th century American music. And it’s the name given by Leonard Bernstein to his Second Symphony, first performed in 1949, which can be heard in the Grand Hall at the festival’s closing concert. New York native Marin Alsop is on the conductor’s rostrum, while French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays the solo part.
About the festival »Age of Anxiety«
The USA in the 20th century: There were chances and hopes on the one hand, fears and crises on the other. The great emigration myth of the »land of unlimited opportunity« was still valid, the belief in equal opportunity and freedom in a democratic, prosperous and modern society. But then the American Dream suddenly turned into a nightmare. After the disaster of World War Two, life in the United States was determined by the rivalry with the enemy in the East: the nuclear arms race, proxy wars, and widespread suspicion and mistrust during the McCarthy Era. On the one hand, the civil rights movement, on the other the assassination of reform president John F. Kennedy and of black-rights pioneer Martin Luther King. In 1947, the far-sighted Anglo-American writer W. H. Auden called this stress-laden era the »Age of Anxiety« in his poem of the same name. It was a troubled and restless time, but also a time of new departures, of the search for identities and ideals.
And not least in the cultural context, the 20th century was first and foremost an era when America set out to find itself. Thus Auden’s poem, on which Leonard Bernstein based his Second Symphony, has been chosen as the ambiguous title for this year’s NDR Festival. After »Stravinsky in Hamburg« last season, the NDR presents a wide panorama of American music in the 20th century.
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester
Jean-Yves Thibaudet Klavier
Dirigentin Marin Alsop
Second Essay for Orchestra op. 17
Fearful Symmetries für Orchester oder Kammerorchester
Sinfonie Nr. 2 für Klavier und Orchester »The Age of Anxiety«
About the music
Where can people find identity and security in the rapidly changing modern world? What ideals are they led by in an era of wars and unrest? These were the issues that inspired British-American writer W. H. Auden to his award-winning poem »The Age of Anxiety« in 1947. A year later, the American composer Leonard Bernstein began work on his Second Symphony, which took Auden’s idea as its underlying motif. He produced an impressive, purely instrumental portrait of the four individuals presented in the poem, whose search for identity is reflected by a wide range of musical styles.
The conductor of the concert, New York native Marin Alsop, juxtaposes Bernstein’s masterpiece with works by two of his American colleagues, Samuel Barber and John Adams. The great Neo-Romantic Barber likewise made use of a literary form: like a writer, in his »Essay for Orchestra« he evolved a short work rich in ideas from one basic musical motif.