· By ArkivMusic Contributor

"Let Music Swell the Breeze:" A Roundtable


Let music swell the breeze / And ring from all the trees / Sweet freedom's song. / Let mortal tongues awake, / Let all that breathe partake, / Let rocks their silence break, / The sound prolong.

Most people who learn "America," a schoolroom staple with the same melody as "God Save the King," never reach the verse quoted above, with its Orpheus-like evocation of people and inanimate landscapes united in song. However, lyricist Samuel Francis Smith saw fit to mention sound and singing several more times throughout, including the final line of the familiar first verse: "Of Thee I sing."

It was this very phrase that composer Jonathan Leshnoff adopted as the title of his memorial piece for the victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. He quotes the song musically as well, with a choir entering partway through this mostly orchestral work to intone a fragment of the hymn.

Oklahoma City Philharmonic Music Director Alexander Mickelthwate knew that Leshnoff was up to the task when he commissioned this piece. The composer prizes emotional directness and has proved his effectiveness as a musical memorialist; see, for example, his work Elegy, also presented on this recording.

However, Leshnoff also writes jubilant, wry, questing, and even rambunctious music. His Violin Concerto no. 2, rendered on this album by soloist Noah Bendix-Balgley, amply demonstrates his range. In this Naxos Live Roundtable co-presented by ArkivMusic, the composer, conductor, and violinist discuss this release—the Philharmonic's first full-length album—and the tragedies and triumphs that shaped it. Listen now!


Shop the album: Of Thee I Sing | Elegy | Violin Concerto no. 2

Shop the music of Jonathan Leshnoff on the Naxos American Classics Series