"Fallen heroes" is the theme of the February concert we air Memorial Day weekend. Atlanta Symphony music director Robert Spano conducts three American works and a Beethoven symphony, and both he and John Adams speak to us about the music.
John Corigliano's bittersweet Elegy starts the concert. Corigliano originally wrote this for trio, to accompany a love scene in an off-Broadway play between the 40-year-old Helen of Troy (past her ship-launching days) and a man half her age. Corigliano later expanded it for orchestra.
Commissioned half a year after the 9/11 attacks, On the Transmigration of Souls is John Adams' tribute to the survivors. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is joined by the ASO Chorus and by a tape of voices intoning phrases from missing posters, profiles of the deceased, and names of those lost. John Adams wrote the piece to be a "memory space," hushed and respectful, giving you the sense of the presence of thousands - the same feeling one gets on entering a grand cathedral, he hopes. (Watch John Adams' hour-long video interview with Terrance McKnight, former host of The ASO on GPB, about this piece, his violin concerto and other topics.)
You might have heard the next piece in the soundtrack of Platoon or The Elephant Man: the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. Among its other distinctions, Barber's Adagio was named "saddest piece of classical music ever" in a 2004 poll of British radio listeners.
Beethoven's Third Symphony, "Eroica," connects to the "fallen heroes" theme on several levels. Its slow movement is an epic funeral march. But the whole piece also concerns a a hero who had fallen or been diminished in the composer's eyes. Beethoven had planned to dedicate the piece to Napoleon of France - until Napoleon went and proclaimed himself emperor. Then, the story goes, Beethoven tore up the title page in an anti-autocratic huff. The more generic subtitle he gave it instead is "Sinfonia Eroica," or Heroic Symphony.
The ASO is on GPB and gpb.org this Thursday, May 22 at 8 p.m., repeating Sunday, May 25 at 10 p.m.
(Next week: Oliver Knussen conducts his children's opera Where the Wild Things Are and Ravel's Mother Goose.)