Review: New York Philharmonic’s pandemic-delayed world premiere of Joan Tower’s “1920/2019”

Posted on: December 8, 2021

From left: Joan Tower at the premiere of her 1920/2019 with the New York Philharmonic, joined by Principal Associate Concertmaster Sheryl Staples and Music Director Jaap van Zweden. Photo: Chris Lee

“After a long delay, Joan Tower’s ‘1920/2019’ was premiered on Friday by the New York Philharmonic at Alice Tully Hall,” writes Anthony Tommasini in Sunday’s (12/5) New York Times. “It was worth the wait to hear this 14-minute work by one of America’s most eminent composer—who, at 83, is as inventive as ever. The piece is part of Project 19, the orchestra’s initiative to commission 19 female composers to honor the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which extended the vote to women…. Tower’s hurtling, dark new piece … juxtaposes 1920, when the amendment was ratified, with 2019 … as Tower writes in a program note, ‘the height of the #MeToo movement, which raised the status of women to yet another level.’ … The piece begins with weighty blocks of orchestral chords heaving over kinetic rhythmic riffs…. On the surface the mood is ominous, even threatening…. During a long later section, the piece becomes like a little concerto for orchestra… All the multilayered, meter-fracturing workings of the score are laid out clearly…. Music director Jaap van Zweden drew a glittering, moody performance.” Also on the program were Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 with Emanuel Ax as soloist and Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony.