Prayers and Remembrances (2011) was commissioned for the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy by True Concord Voices & Orchestra, Eric Holtan, Music Director, and Mrs. Dorothy Vanek, in loving memory of her husband, Robert Vanek, and in memory of friends of the Vaneks from United and American Airlines who were lost on September 11, 2001.
The idea for Prayers and Remembrances began with Eric Holtan. He approached me a few years back with a vision of writing a commemorative work for chorus and orchestra. We had several discussions and emails, especially about the text, and eventually, with the commission in place, I was ready to begin.
My concern was to write a work that would not only honor the 9/11 tragedy and all those who perished, but also one that would address the memories, the grieving and the recovery for anyone dealing with a circumstance in which loved ones had perished. Early on, Eric and I decided we wanted to create a work that would be spiritual but not necessarily religious. The goal was to find a combination of poems that were both secular and sacred—from poets who addressed grief, recovery, and a spiritual focus in life—that would highlight common beliefs across distinct religious traditions. I ended up with a healthy mix of poets from different cultures, centuries and faiths.
The orchestra is approximately the size of the Mozart Requiem (since that was to be the companion work on the concert), with the addition of flute, oboe, horns, harp, and percussion.My approach was to use the orchestra to adorn and emphasize the text. I consider the words such an important part to a piece like this, and my intention, as always, was to make sure the choir could be heard without being overwhelmed by the orchestra.
Throughout the work I have been conscious of trying to bring melodic and harmonic ideas to the fore that would suggest hope, light and a future. To me, this seems to be the hardest thing to accept in any tragedy, whether it involves one person or thousands. So there are sometimes bright, colorful harmonies or melodies in both the orchestra and the chorus: this is not a work meant to wallow in self-pity or dwell in tragedy. I am hopeful that the sounds and words meld, going at least some distance towards repair and healing.
I am so grateful to True Concord Voices & Orchestra and their wonderful director, Eric Holtan, for asking me to create a work for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. I hope this piece will have reason to be performed in other situations. And I am especially grateful to Dorothy Vanek for her generosity in commissioning the work. Without patrons and wonderful performers, composers would simply be artists working alone, like a tree falling in the forest when no one is around to hear it. —Stephen Paulus
The above text is from the composer’s introduction to the work before its world premiere performance on September 11, 2011.