BSO's symphonic protest music

`Rocking the Cradle' questions war in the `cradle of civilization'

Music Preview

March 23, 2007|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,Sun Music Critic

After a quietly ominous start, the first movement of Richard Danielpour's new symphony, Rocking the Cradle, explodes with pounding chords. The movement is called "Shock and Awe." The second movement, alternately reflective and anguished, has an equally strong title: "In Memory of the Innocent."

Commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra several years ago, and premiered last night, Rocking the Cradle is a strong statement against the Iraq war by a major American composer. (Other performances are tonight and tomorrow morning.)

"Artists, the media - everybody - we were all afraid to speak out against this war at the start, because it would be considered `unpatriotic,'" Danielpour, 51, said yesterday after a rehearsal at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. "But when something begins to infringe on our very integrity as human beings, you can't be silent. That's why I'm speaking through this music."

The stocky, longhaired composer, known for richly orchestrated, rhythmically charged works popular with performers and audiences, said that Rocking the Cradle "asks about the war we are fighting in the `cradle of civilization' - 3,400 lives later, and with thousands of soldiers maimed, is all this worth it? Is there a real point?"

"It is ... coincidental that the premiere should occur the same week as the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq," said BSO president Paul Meecham. "But I think it's good when art resonates with the issues of the day."

The composer does not expect all concertgoers to share his views. "If someone attacks me, the way they did the Dixie Chicks, I can't control that," he said. "This is not a political statement, but a humanitarian issue."

Meecham does not view the new piece as incendiary. "We live in a society that can cope with different points of view," he said. "We have to give artists license to create as they see fit."

For Danielpour, the "innocent" commemorated in the finale of his new work include "Daniel Pearl, the Iraqi civilian casualties that nobody talks about - anyone innocent. But it's mainly about the [U.S.] soldiers, who do what they are told, and do it with tremendous integrity."

"I support the troops," he added. "I just don't support the politicians behind the troops. They call anti-war protesters unpatriotic. Is it patriotic to mislead and lie to the American people? I want to believe in the people leading the country, but I'm having a hard time."

Even the dedication to the score - "to all who oppose tyranny" - speaks loudly to Danielpour's convictions. "I'm just an artist," he said. "But I'm also a humanitarian who believes we have a right to the truth."

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