Overture to "The Andersonville Trial"

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Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 2.25.57 PM.png

Overture to "The Andersonville Trial"


for chamber orchestra (1982, rev. 1989)

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  • Premiere: 12 November 1989 / Santa Cruz Symphony Orchestra / JoAnn Falletta, conductor
  • Instrumentation: 2(I,II=picc).2(II=corA).2.2- 
  • Duration: 8.5'
  • Dedication: "for William Smith, in appreciation"
  • All orders are digital downloads. To order paper scores please visit our partner distributor, Theodore Front.

Program note

I was nine when Saul Levitt’s striking courtroom drama The Andersonville Trial was first televised. I remember watching it with my father and older brothers, and being told by my father that “adult matters” were going to be discussed and that they might upset me. Was I sure that I wanted to stay up to watch it? The May 1970 PBS broadcast, directed by George C. Scott, and starring William Shatner, Jack Cassidy, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Sheen, and Cameron Mitchell, among many other fine actors, represented my first introduction to American Civil War history, and coincided with my learning, from my Polish piano teacher, about the Holocaust in Europe. I was riveted by the glimpse—however stylized and stagey—of adults grappling with questions surrounding morality, obedience to authority, personal responsibility, and free will.

I began sketches for an operatic treatment of the play in 1979 but set them aside when it became clear even to me that the subject was too dense for me at the time, and I felt that the prospect of finding singers to sing an opera for men only (my favorite opera was Britten’s Billy Budd) was impractical. Three years later, I landed in Philadelphia at the Curtis Institute and was gifted with the opportunity to compose for a single orchestral program, which I would conduct, an overture, a symphony, and a concerto. I had brought my sketches, based on the Broadway play, with me to Philadelphia. I chose three themes from them, fleshed them out, and, during summer 1982, shaped them into this overture.

I first conducted the overture that November at Curtis, then introduced it on a public concert that I conducted with the Orchestra Society of Philadelphia a few months later. Seven years later, JoAnn Falletta graciously invited me to revise the overture for a concert she was giving with the Santa Cruz Symphony. With that ensemble the piece received what I consider its formal premiere. I gave the piece to my then publisher, E.C. Schirmer, in Boston, but couldn’t justify to myself the lighter, 40s Americana language of one of the themes—it seemed to me insubstantial, and not up to the subject matter. Consequently, in 1996, I withdrew it entirely.

Casting about for a new operatic subject in summer 2016, I remembered the play, and I pulled out the manuscript of the overture for the first look I’d had at it in two decades. It struck me that, were I to move ahead now, with my adult powers as a composer fully in play, I’d choose exactly the same musical language—a densely-packed 40s Americana shot through with pungent dissonances and frank emotionalism—that I chose twenty-four summers earlier. I reacquainted myself with the composition by engraving it, and am proud to publish it now and to have it serve as the overture to the opera that I am at last composing to follow it.