Philip Glass’ adventurous synthesis of traditional opera and modern minimalism

the CIVIL warS - Rome

Philip Glass, Radio Filharmonisch Orkest, Groot Omroepkoor

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Philip Glass’ 1983 opera Rome was the last section of Robert Wilson’s famed opera project the CIVIL warS. In his staging Wilson introduced a range of characters, from Abraham Lincoln and his mentally ill widow Mary to the Italian freedom fighter Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Greek hero Heracles. Glass set Wilson’s immensely rich libretto to colourful, yet lucid music full of intricate patterns of melodies and rhythms, creating a bold synthesis of modern minimalism and 400 years of Italian opera traditions. The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra presents a concert performance of the opera with a cast of five singers on stage. The musical direction is by Glass expert Dennis Russell Davies.

the CIVIL warS will be recorded by the NTR and will be broadcasted on Friday the 20th of June at 8.00 pm in the Avondconcert on Radio 4.
Programme Icoon


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‘… most special about the CIVIL warS’ Rome Section is the range and variety of the vocal and instrumental color …’

Classical Music Review

Background information

The title alone is enough to give you a sense that there's a remarkable story behind this opera. CIVIL warS, part V (Rome) is a mysterious modern classic, created by composer Philip Glass and director Robert Wilson. Having previously joined forces for their groundbreaking opera Einstein on the beach (1976), Glass and Wilson's renewed collaboration was the most successful and talked about part of Robert Wilson's CIVIL warS project. Nevertheless, the Rome section, the part on which Wilson worked with Glass, is seldom performed.

The full title of the opera reading the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down, Wilson's CIVIL warS was an ambitious project of epic proportions, a monumental work in five acts which Wilson initiated in the early 1980's with the music of various composers, including Philip Glass, David Byrne and Gavin Bryars. The opera has never been performed in its totality. Starting from a text written by Wilson himself, inspired by photographs of the American Civil War, the project steadily expanded to include other peoples and their civil wars. Wilson explained the title's strange capitalisation as originating in a wish to emphasise the civil aspect and the frequency of the phenomenon of war.
The original idea was to stage a music theatre work which would last a whole day and would be performed during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Composers and writers from various countries would write librettos and compose music on the basis of Wilson's text: these six parts would be premiered in their respective countries of origin and subsequently merged into one big performance during the Olympic Games. Although the Olympic Committee offered a financial contribution to meet the costs, there was not enough funding for the project. As it transpired that deadlines for the hugely complex logistics could not be met either, the performance of the complete opera was eventually abandoned. Four of its six parts were premiered though, with Wilson directing; they were staged in Minneapolis, Rome, Rotterdam and Cologne.
The Rome section comprises the fifth and last act of CIVIL warS. Wilson collaborated on the text, which is in Latin, Italian and English, with the writer Maita di Niscemi. Rome premiered in March 1984 at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma. Glass came to the project at a late stage, when Wilson had already recorded a full version without sound on video. Working in the manner of a film composer, Glass wrote his score on the rhythm of the action. Composing an opera in Rome confronted Glass with 400 years of Italian opera history. As a result, his score for CIVIL warS, although still unmistakably demonstrating his distinctive musical language, is strikingly operatic in comparison to Einstein on the beach.

The Rome section is subdivided into a prologue and three scenes. The prologue, featuring Abraham Lincoln amongst others, opens with turbulent and dramatic music that seems to sum up the story so far – i.e. the four parts preceding it. Scene A presents us with the entrance of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the great nationalist military hero who at the time of the American Civil War played a crucial role in the unification of Italy. While Garibaldi sings, his soldiers perform a dance with a group of Hopi Indians on a bridge between two spaceships – testament to Robert Wilson's signature surrealist visual language. Scene B is the centrepiece of the opera and focuses on the American Civil War, featuring monologues by the Confederate general Robert E. Lee floating through space and President Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. Scene C introduces, amongst others, the Greek hero Hercules. The music is like an elegiac reverie resembling a romantic Italian requiem.

the CIVIL warS - Rome will be performed on Friday 19 June at the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and the Netherlands Radio Choir, conducted by Dennis Russell-Davies. The soloists are soprano Sara Hershkowitz (Snow Owl/Alcmena), alto Cécile van de Sant (Mother/Mrs. Lincoln), tenor Donald Kaasch (Garibaldi), baritone Christian Miedl (Abraham Lincoln) and bass Jaco Huijpen (Hercules).


The American composer and pianist Philip Glass (1937) is widely regarded as the founder of minimal music. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Glass studied at the University of Chicago and the Juilliard School in New York. In the early 1960s he lived in Paris for two years in order to study with Nadia Boulanger. Whilst there he earned a little extra money by transcribing Ravi Shankar's Indian music into Western notation. Back in New York, he started to incorporate these Eastern elements in his own music. In 1974, Glass set up a number of significant, innovative projects, writing a large collection of new music for his own Philip Glass Ensemble and for the Mabou Mines Theatre Company, culminating in Music in 12 Parts (which was performed at the Holland Festival in 2007) and Einstein on the Beach, the groundbreaking opera he wrote with Robert Wilson in 1976. Since Einstein on the Beach, Glass has expanded his repertoire with chamber music, orchestral works and music for opera, dance, theatre and film. In the 1990s he created a trilogy of pieces for music theatre based on Jean Cocteau's films Orphée, La Belle et La Bête and Les Enfants Terribles. Glass has received many prizes in his career and is still productive, having recently composed his Symphony No. 10 and the opera The perfect American. He still travels around the world, lecturing, giving workshops and performing both solo and with his Philip Glass Ensemble.

Dennis Russell Davies (1944) is an American conductor and pianist. He studied piano and orchestral direction at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, where he received his doctorate. Davies is a famous interpreter of contemporary music, most notably the music of Hans Werner Henze, William Bolcom and Philip Glass. He has commissioned, premiered and recorded numerous pieces by living composers, along with the standard classical works. As a conductor and a pianist he has made more than eighty recordings, including Coplands Appalachian Spring with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (winning him a Grammy Award), Arvo Pärts Fratres and Miserere, and many of the operas and symphonies by Philip Glass, including the Symphony No. 5, which is dedicated to Davies. Davies is chief conductor of the Basel Symphony Orchestra and artistic leader and chief conductor of the Bruckner Orchestra Linz and Linz Opera, inaugurating its new opera house with the world premiere of Glass' The Lost in April 2013. Since 2011, Davies has been artistic leader of the Orchestre Français des Jeunes, conducting the orchestra annually in the summer months and in winter on tours through France, Germany and Austria. Dennis Russell Davies is professor emeritus of orchestral direction at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and honorary conductor of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. In America he has been made honorary conductor of the American Composers Orchestra, which he helped to establish, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Martin Wright was the artistic director of the Chorus of the Netherlands Opera from 2006 to 2012. He was chorus master at the San Diego Opera and held similar posts with the Los Angeles Opera, the Arizona Opera, the Music Academy of the West, the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts and the Rundfunkchor Berlin. As a singer he performed more than thirty opera roles and sang in many concert opera performances with orchestras in the United States, Asia and Europe, where he made his debut in 1981 at the Holland Festival. Wright was musical director of the San Diego Master Chorale and principal guest conductor of the Netherlands Radio Choir, with which he still regularly works as a guest conductor.
In 2009 Martin Wright was a member of the Kurt Thomas Foundation for chorus masters. In 2010 he prepared the Chorus of the Shanghai Opera for Beethoven's Fidelio and Ninth Symphony with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra led by Edo de Waart. In 2011, he was appointed honorary conductor of this choir. Wright also worked with the Bayerischer Rundfunkchor (Choir of Bavarian Broadcasting) in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin under the direction of Mariss Jansons. In 2013 he prepared this choir, along with the choirs of the NDR and the WDR, for Wagner's Der Fliegende Holländer with Andris Nelsons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Wright has twice been a member of the jury of the International Vocalist Competition in Den Bosch. From the start of the 2013-2014 season he has been appointed chorusmaster of the Deutsche Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin.

The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra occupies a prominent position in Dutch music. With an unfailing commitment to artistic excellence and a balanced programme the currently one hundred strong orchestra grew into one of the best orchestras in the Netherlands. The orchestra was formed in 1945 by Albert van Raalte, who was succeeded by, in chronological order, Paul van Kempen, Bernard Haitink, Jean Fournet, Willem van Otterloo, Hans Vonk, Sergiu Comissiona, Edo de Waart and Jaap van Zweden. In 2012, Markus Stenz was appointed chief conductor. The American conductor James Gaffigan has been principal guest conductor since the 2011-2012 season. Since August 2013, the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra has been part of the Stichting Omroep Muziek (Music Broadcast Organisation), along with the Netherlands Radio Choir and the production department of Dutch public broadcaster Radio 4's concert series.
The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra has worked with many distinguished guest conductors, including Leopold Stokowski, Kirill Kondrashin, Antal Doráti, Riccardo Muti, Kurt Masur, Charles Dutoit, Mariss Jansons, Michael Tilson Thomas, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Peter Eötvös, Vladimir Jurowsky and Valery Gergiev. The orchestra plays a prominent part in the various concert series which are broadcast on Dutch radio and television, which are the Saturday Matinee and the Sunday Morning Concerts at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and the Friday at Vredenburg in Utrecht. The orchestra guarantees adventurous symphonic programming, high quality performance and a plethora of concertante opera performances, including many Dutch and world premieres. As well as in the Dutch Broadcasting Authority's series, the orchestra has also performed abroad, notably at the Festival Musica in 2008 and at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011.

The orchestra’s discography is impressive, with legendary recordings released on various imprints from the 1970's, conducted by such famous conductors as Leopold Stokowski and Antal Doráti. A collection of albums with French repertoire was recorded under Jean Fouret. Under Edo de Waart, the complete Mahler Symphonies, a unique Wagner collection and a collection of orchestral works by Rachmaninov were recorded. Various CDs with the works of contemporary composers such as Jonathan Harvey, Klas Torstensson and Jan van Vlijmen received prizes. Under British conductor Mark Wigglesworth the complete symphonies of Shostakovitch were recorded, while Jaap van Zweden conducted the recording of a Bruckner cycle. The live recording under Van Zweden of Wagner's Parsifal for the NTR Saturday Matinee was awarded an Edison Klassiek, one of the most prestigious prizes in Dutch classical music, for Opera in 2012.

The sixty strong Netherlands Radio Choir is the largest professional choir in the Netherlands. Since it was formed in 1945, the choir has performed a broad repertoire, from baroque to contemporary music, working in varied formations, dependent on the work at hand and the wishes of the conductor. The choir has worked with guest conductors such as Marcus Creed, Peter Dijkstra, Stefan Parkman and Kaspars Putniņš; and with early music specialists such as Frans Brüggen, Philippe Herreweghe, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Ton Koopman. Repertoire for symphonic chorus and concertante opera productions have been performed under famous conductors such as Jaap van Zweden, Riccardo Chailly, Peter Eötvös, Sir Simon Rattle and Mariss Jansons.
As a partner of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra the Netherlands Radio Choir regularly performs at concerts produced by the Dutch public broadcasters and is also frequently invited by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and the Berliner Philharmoniker. For broadcaster NTR's Saturday Matinee,the choir has performed many world premieres, as well as works by contemporary composers including Ligeti, Boulez, Birtwistle, Kagel, Reich, Wagemans, Adès and Adams. The Netherlands Radio Choir has recorded an impressive collection of CDs, including recordings of Keuris, MacMillan, Mahler, Poulenc, Rossini and Wagner.
The choir's first chief conductor Kenneth Montgomery was succeeded by, in chronological order, Robin Gritton, Martin Wright, Simon Halsey and Celso Antunes. Since the 2012-2013 season Gijs Leenaars has been chief conductor. Michael Gläser has been principal guest conductor since 2010. Since August 2013, the Netherlands Radio Choir has been part of the Stichting Omroep Muziek (Music Broadcast Organisation), along with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and the production department of Dutch public broadcaster Radio 4's concert series.


Philip Glass
Robert Wilson, Maita di Niscemi
Dennis Russell Davies
Sara Hershkowitz, soprano (Snow Owl/Alcmena)
Cécile van de Sant, alto (Mother/Mrs. Lincoln)
Donald Kaasch, tenor (Garibaldi)
Christian Miedl, baritone (Abraham Lincoln)
Jaco Huijpen, bass (Hercules)
performed by
Radio Filharmonisch Orkest
Groot Omroepkoor
chorus conductor
Martin Wright
Jan Panis
NTR, Holland Festival
commissioned by
Opera di Roma

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