The Score

by Rebecca Winzenried  

Finding Comfort in Music

The opportunity to come together, to find solace through the power of music. It was the natural response of orchestras across the country in the days following the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

Events unfolded during a week when many orchestras had been looking forward to their 2001-02 season openers. But festive opening galas hardly reflected the national mood, and orchestras responded accordingly. The New Jersey Symphony canceled its opening night gala, scheduled for September 13. As an orchestra representative noted, it was the only decision for a group that performs at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, once within sight of the World Trade Center towers. The New York Philharmonic also canceled its opening night gala, planned for September 20, replacing it with a special memorial performance of Brahms's Ein deutsches Requiem on the same date. Video screens set up in the Lincoln Center plaza allowed overflow crowds to view the concert, which was broadcast nationally by PBS. A similar setup in the Kennedy Center's Grand Foyer accommodated the crowds who turned out for a free concert by the National Symphony Orchestra on September 17.

Around the country, orchestras altered scheduled programming, called for a moment of silence during free memorial concerts, and collected donations for disaster relief. Barber's Adagio for Strings and "Nimrod" from Elgar's Enigma Variations replaced more boisterous works on many programs. The national anthem -- a regular part of the season opener for orchestras such as Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma City -- was added to concerts by several others.

At every turn, orchestra musicians volunteered to play for small memorial gatherings and prayer services. Free concerts by some orchestras, such as The Cleveland Orchestra and the Columbus Symphony, were organized by musicians, who donated their services in exchange for the opportunity to provide some comfort and unity to their communities. A day after the attacks, Colorado Symphony musicians stayed after a concert to gather donations for the American Red Cross, collecting nearly $9,000 in one evening; the total would rise to more than $14,000 by the end of their weekend performances. Lincoln Center announced plans to donate $100,000 to the families of the twelve firefighters listed as missing from the firehouse that is part of the Lincoln Center complex.

The suspension of air traffic following the attacks affected orchestras that were expecting guest artists. Paavo Järvi's inaugural concert as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on September 14 was changed to an all-orchestral program when cellist Truls Mork was unable to make it to the United States from Norway. Composer Charles Coleman, a New Yorker who resides near the World Trade Center, made alternate travel plans, arriving in Cincinnati by car for the world premiere of his Streetscapes.

The inability of new Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles to arrive for rehearsals forced the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to make changes to its season opener on September 15, originally planned as a dual showcase for new Music Director Robert Spano and Runnicles. In Portland, the Oregon Symphony responded to Marilyn Horne's interrupted travel plans by giving a special free concert without its scheduled guest artist. Tickets were gone within half an hour. Nearly 1,000 people listened to the performance on speakers set up outside the hall, and the concert was broadcast statewide.

And in The Charleston Gazette, feature editor Douglas Imbrogno urged readers on the day after the tragedy to take a moment, turn off the television, and go see the West Virginia Symphony. "Any particular arts event at this moment might seem superfluous. Yet the arts -- music, story, image -- must be at least one way in which we can talk to each other about this overpowering week. The arts can and will help us to absorb and process it. As well as to cry, to wail, to escape, and to confront it. And, finally, to move onward with whatever possible worth we can take from what has happened."