It felt like a solemn occasion—and it was. In March, the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale in Maryland performed the world premiere of Adolphus Hailstork’s America’s Requiem: A Knee on the Neck, a 40-minute cantata composed in memory of George Floyd and other Black victims of police brutality. Hailstork, the work’s composer, and librettist Herbert Martin were both in attendance at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda for the premiere, led by Music Director Piotr Gajewski. America’s Requiem begins with “A Black Mother’s Commandment,” a five-part poem set to music, sung by mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges. Later, a section entitled “Folk Song” intertwines Floyd’s death with references to death as a “virus going round taking names.” The work concludes with a more hopeful Hymn. America’s Requiem is the most recent of several orchestral works composed in response to the deaths of George Floyd and others at the hands of police. More are on the way. Composer Carlos Simon and librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph are at work on a commission for the Minnesota Orchestra called brea(d)th, honoring George Floyd and the work toward equity and healing in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed; it is set to premiere in May 2023. 

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