By Michael Cooper. A shoutout to Eine Sinfonie für Luzern, with reference to the Carnegie Hall performance of Philadelphia Voices.
A Real “Surprise” Symphony
Few concert halls are more serene, pristine, light and elegant than the airy white one Jean Nouvel designed for the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland. So it must have been a bit of a shock for the audience assembled there for the 2015 premiere of Tod Machover’s “A Symphony for Lucerne” when the conductor Matthias Pintscher turned his back on the orchestra and began conducting a rollicking marching band that had crashed the symphony. It was the Barfuessfäger, one of the papier-mâché-masked bands that usually plays during the city’s annual carnival, Fasnacht, a chaotic counterpoint to all that Swiss precision. The collision of marching band and Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra surely would have pleased Charles Ives, who explored clashing marching bands in his works, and fit in with Mr. Machover’s mission of writing symphonies that capture the sound and spirit of cities.
They Are Here
“Philadelphia Voices,” Tod Machover’s new work for chorus and orchestra, incorporates the sounds of Philadelphians speaking, urban bustle and sizzling cheesesteaks into a 30-minute score. For the New York premiere of the piece on Tuesday at Carnegie Hall, the Philadelphia Orchestra was joined by the Keystone State Boychoir, the Pennsylvania Girlchoir and the Sister Cities Girlchoir (which draws participants from Philadelphia; Camden, N.J.; and Baltimore). Like similar American youth choruses, the Sister Cities Girlchoir responded to the pop singer-songwriter Alicia Keys’s call for a more equal and just world, embodied by her 2014 song “We Are Here.” That year the choir, taking up the challenge, released an inspiring video performance of the song. It’s especially moving when a montage begins showing members of the choir holding up handwritten signs: “I am here for peace,” for “joyfulness,” to “make my family proud,” to “make music.”