Composers Datebook®

Kernis' 'Color Wheel'

Composers Datebook - 20231215


A color wheel is a circular chart showing the relationship of the colors of the spectrum. It was originally fashioned by Isaac Newton in 1666 and still serves as a useful tool for painters and graphic designers today.

Color Wheel also is the title of an orchestral showpiece by American composer Aaron Jay Kernis — a work that was premiered on today’s date in 2001 by the Philadelphia Orchestra at the opening concerts of the then-new Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia.

“The honor of being asked to compose the first music played in this new hall led me to conceive of a ‘miniature’ concerto for orchestra which treats it as a large and dynamic body of sound and color,” Kernis said.

“I sometimes see colors when I compose,” he confessed, “and the qualities of certain chords do elicit specific sensation in me — for example, I see A-major as bright yellow. I’ve also been fascinated with Sufi whirling dervishes and their ecstatic spinning. This work may have some ecstatic moments but it is full of tension, continuous energy and drive.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960) Color Wheel; Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero, cond. Naxos 8.559838

On This Day


  • 1657 - French composer Michel-Richard de Lalande, in Paris;


  • 1792 - German-born Swedish composer Joseph Martin Kraus, age 36, in Stockholm;


  • 1807 - Spontini: opera, "La Vestale," at the Paris Opéra;

  • 1893 - Dvorák: Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World") by the New York Philharmonic, Anton Seidl conducting, at a public rehearsal at Carnegie Hall, attended by the composers' children, among other members of the general public (the "official " premiere took place the following evening);

  • 1900 - Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 18 (second and third movements only), in Moscow, with Ziloti conducting and the composer as soloist (Julian date: Dec. 2); The first complete performance of this concerto, with the same conductor and soloist, occurred in Moscow on 27 October (Julian)/November 9 (Gregorian)in 1901;

  • 1901 - Rachmaninoff: Cello Sonata, Op. 19, in Moscow, by cellist Anatoly Brandukov, with the composer at the piano (Julian date: Dec. 2);

  • 1910 - Reger: Piano Concerto in f, Op. 114, by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Arthur Nikisch, with Frieda Kwast-Hodapp as soloist;

  • 1916 - American premiere of Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde," with vocal soloists Tilly Koenen and Johannes Sembach, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting;

  • 1934 - Jean Françaix: Piano Concertino, in Paris, at a Lamoureux concert, with the composer as soloist;

  • 1938 - Bloch: Violin Concerto, in Cleveland, Joseph Szigeti, violin and the Cleveland Orchestra, Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting;

  • 1938 - Revueltas: "Sensemayá," in Mexico City;

  • 1940 - Schoenberg: Chamber Symphony No. 2, in New York City;

  • 1986 - Bernstein: "Opening Prayer" for Baritone and Orchestra, at Carnegie Hall by the New York Philharmonic conducted by the composer, with Kurt Ollmann as the vocal soloist;

  • 2000 - John Adams: oratorio "El Niño," at Le Châtelet in Paris, by soloists Dawn Upshaw, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Willard White, with the Theatre of Voices and the Deutsches Symphonie conducted by Kent Nagano; The American premiere of this work occurred in San Francisco on January 11, 2001;

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®