Please note: This stream is available until 12.3.2022.
The USA in the 20th century – a nation in a time of upheaval and awakening, searching for a cultural identity. This period of self-discovery led to the creation of a rich and compelling music culture. Under Alan Gilbert, the NDR ensembles now delve into the diverse sounds of this period in the »Age of Anxiety« festival. In the opening concert, the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra and its chief conductor present works by Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber. The programme features Barber’s enthralling »Essay for Orchestra«, and Copland’s Symphony No. 3 and his controversial »Lincoln Portrait«. Violinist Leonidas Kavakos returns to Hamburg as a star guest to perform Korngold’s melodious Violin Concerto.
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.
Gala concert with American music
Alan Gilbert and his orchestra also celebrated the Elbphilharmonie’s fifth birthday on 11 January 2022 with some fantastic American music: they got the festival week underway in style with John Adams’s thrilling »Short Ride in a Fast Machine«.
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester
Leonidas Kavakos violin
conductor Alan Gilbert
Morris Robinson narrator
Essay for Orchestra Op. 12
Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35
- Interval -
Symphony No. 3
Live stream on 19 Feb 2022: »Age of Anxiety«
Two other concerts in the »Age of Anxiety« festival are being broadcast live: on 13 February, the NDR Bigband dedicates itself to the greats of American Cool Jazz, Miles Davis and Chet Baker. And on 19 February, the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra performs works by Samuel Barber, John Adams and Leonard Bernstein.
About the Music
Inspiration from distant lands
America’s musical culture was shaped from the very beginning by the fruitful ideas and inspiration imported into the country by the large number of immigrants. After all, it was a European by the name of Antonín Dvořák who first created the right conditions for the emergence of a classical »national music«.
Another composer who continued this trans-Atlantic exchange was Erich Wolfgang Korngold. He wrote some of his greatest works in and for America. The Austrian-in-exile’s Violin Concerto was premiered in 1947. In it, the brilliant composer, whose roots lay in the lush late-Romanticism of the Richard Strauss era, reused themes from his film music works, which continue to influence the »Hollywood sound« to this day.
Lincoln Portrait by Aaron Copland
Another American composer brought one of his country’s greatest statesmen onto the concert stage, at least in spirit: in his 1942 work »Lincoln Portrait«, Aaron Copland quotes from legendary US President Abraham Lincoln’s speeches and letters. The work was political dynamite – so much so that it was banned during the McCarthy era due to allegedly communist leanings, and a performance of it in Venezuela even sparked a revolution against the dictatorial regime.
»Lincoln Portrait«: Lyrics
Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility
The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country.
It is the eternal struggle between two principles, right and wrong, throughout the world. It is the same spirit that says "You toil and work and earn bread, and I'll eat it." No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation, and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.
As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.
That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.
Song of America: A Celebration of Black Music
In 2021 the famous baritone Thomas Hampson gave a festival celebrating the music, poetry, and stories of Black composers, writers, and artists. The concert streams are available until June 2022.
Samuel Barber: more than the »Adagio for Strings«
The concert programme also features music by the child prodigy Samuel Barber: it was no less a figure than the Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini who championed Barber in the early days. Toscanini conducted the premiere of Barber’s »Essay for Orchestra« in 1938 – together with the »Adagio for Strings«, whose fame has overshadowed so many other rewarding works by Barber.
Copland’s »American monument«
Copland also composed a key work of American orchestral music. To quote Leonard Bernstein, his Third Symphony is an »American monument, like the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial«. The brilliant work from 1946 is crowned by an ostentatious finale in which Copland quotes his popular »Fanfare for the Common Man«.