Zwilich Fifth Symphony In World Premiere
When The Juilliard School (from which she had become the first female Ph.D. in composition) commissioned Ellen Taaffe Zwilich to write a large work for orchestra, she didn’t know that it would turn out to be a work of symphonic proportions that was, at the same time, a tour de force for the individual instruments of the orchestra. For that is what her Symphony No. 5 is, a 24-minute, four-movement portrait (Prologue, Celebration, Memorial, Epilogue) that brilliantly displayed the virtuosity of the young players of the Juilliard Orchestra under the direction of James Conlon in Carnegie Hall.
It was an auspicious start to a season which will also see the world premiere of Zwilich’s Septet for Piano Trio and String Quartet performed by the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio and the Miami String Quartet at New York’s 92nd Street Y in April, just prior to the composer’s 70th birthday. A string of other Zwilich performances are scheduled throughout the year, including two programs by the Chamber Music Society of Detroit, one of the co-commissioners of the recent Quintet for Alto Saxophone and String Quartet, as well as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s performance of the Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra ("Double") with soloists Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson, conducted by Hans Graf.
In her program note, the composer mentions that the third movement (Memorial) "was written in remembrance of composers whose voices were silenced by tyranny," and it was particularly fitting that the premiere performance was assigned to Conlon, the conductor who has done so much to keep in the public consciousness the works of composers whose lives and compositions were suppressed by the Nazi regime.
Not only was the audience gathered in Carnegie Hall enthusiastic in its reception of the Fifth Symphony but the press was equally positive. Reviewing for The New York Times, Steve Smith said that Zwilich was known for "a mix of neo-Classical craftsmanship, roiling energy and tonal accessibility. Those qualities were also present in the new symphony…qualities that have long made her music personal and compelling were certainly present, and the Juilliard musicians took up the piece with diligence and vitality."
Musicalamerica.com’s Peter G. Davis wrote: "The score is thoroughly agreeable from first note to last, definitely music with a serious intent but never presuming to shake an angry fist at fate or explore any surprisingly new or difficult musical paths....It’s impossible not to admire the piece’s concise workmanship and honest sentiment, and surely many other orchestras will find it an attractive novelty."
The Symphony No. 5 (Concerto for Orchestra) is published by Merion Music (Theodore Presser).