MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

george WASHINGTON

Roger Reynolds, 2005

Roger Reynolds, 2005

Despite the recent government shutdown, this month’s world premiere of george WASHINGTON by the National Symphony went ahead as scheduled. Here’s the essay I wrote for the program:

“I believe all things will come out right at last, but…the people must feel before they will see.” These words of George Washington (1732-1799), observes Roger Reynolds, might serve as the epigraph for his new composition. They occur in the final section of the libretto for george WASHINGTON, which Reynolds carefully selected and assembled from the diaries and letters of the iconic figure. In comparison with Washington’s relatively “wooden” speeches, which represent a “publicly constructed persona” intended to shield his imposing image, these more intimate sources proved to be a wellspring: “I was staggered by his wisdom, his sensitivity, even his ability to be poetic and to make emotively potent statements.”

The priority of experience as the gateway toward true understanding, Reynolds adds, is an idea that recurs in Washington’s writings, but it also expresses the composer’s own goal for the work. He envisioned george WASHINGTON as a multimedia amalgam of orchestral music, narration, visual projections, and computer-processed “surround” sound. All of this elaborate technical apparatus, in the end, is meant to provide an immersive experience that can “provoke the imagination and arouse in the audience some sense of their own relationship to Washington as a human being. It’s not about giving a history lesson but about trying to enter into Washington’s world.”

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