As part of its 150th Anniversary celebration, the New York Philharmonic commissioned a number of new orchestral works. One of them premiered at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall on today’s date in 1993. The work is dedicated to the Philharmonic and Kurt Masur, its music director in those days.
This was the Third Symphony of the American composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that Zwilich knows the symphony orchestra from inside out: for seven years she was a violinist in the American Symphony Orchestra, a New York-based ensemble conducted by Leopold Stokowski when Zwilich was a player.
For her Third Symphony, Zwilich confessed she had an often-neglected section of the orchestra in mind: “I had noticed over the years the rising quality of viola playing,” she said in an interview, “and I thought that the Philharmonic’s section was absolutely amazing. So when I had this commission, I thought almost immediately of focusing on the violas. When you think of it, many symphonies of the past are like first violin concertos with second violin and viola accompaniment, and I really wanted to put the spotlight on the viola section and give them a great deal to do, not only in terms of virtuosity, but of importance and centrality to the piece. So this symphony really grew out of my love for this section of the orchestra.”
Music Played in Today's Program
Ellen Taafe Zwilich (b. 1939)Symphony No. 3Louisville Orchestra; James Sedares, cond.Koch 7278