Review: National Philharmonic world premiere of Hailstork’s “America’s Requiem: A Knee on the Neck”

Posted on: March 28, 2022

National Philharmonic Music Director Piotr Gajewski (on podium) applauds librettist Herbert Martin (left, holding flowers) and composer Adolphus Hailstork (right, holding flowers) at the world premiere of “America’s Requiem: A Knee on the Neck,” March 26, 2022.

“On Saturday night … the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale, the Washington Chorus, members of the Howard University Chorale and a powerhouse trio of soloists filled the stage at Strathmore to premiere ‘A Knee on the Neck,’ a bracing, captivating and essential new work … by composer Adolphus Hailstork and librettist Herbert Martin,” writes Michael Andor Brodeur in Sunday’s (3/27) Washington Post. “ ‘America’s Requiem: A Knee on the Neck’ [was] composed in memory of George Floyd and other victims of police brutality…. The massive gathering of choral singers onstage [drove] home the colossal emotional scale of this piece…. [Tenor Norman] Shankle [sang] a searing a cappella that combines the perspective of a prisoner on mail day with haunting choral cautions…. Martin has … a virtuoso’s sense of music, of which Hailstork takes full advantage: stretching single syllables into haunting scrims of sound—such as ‘Ma,’ which becomes a devastating evocation of Floyd calling for his mother. Or the way Hailstork really has the chorus lean into those humming M’s of ‘come home’ like the hinge of an amen.” National Philharmonic Music Director Piotr Gajewski conducted the concert, which also included Mozart’s Requiem in D minor.