Jonas Tarm

Statement Regarding Cancellation of Carnegie Hall Debut

March 4, 2015

It has been an honor and pleasure to rehearse my music with the New York Youth Symphony and conductor Joshua Gersen. These fellow young musicians are some of the most artistically advanced and mature musicians I have been able to work with.

I am disappointed and confused by the decision of the president of the board and the executive director of the NYYS to cancel my Carnegie Hall debut, 6 days before the concert. This composition, titled “Marsh u Nebuttya” (Ukrainian for “March to Oblivion”), is devoted to the victims who have suffered from cruelty and hatred of war, totalitarianism, polarizing nationalism — in the past and today.

To emphasize that point in musical form, I briefly incorporate historical themes from the Soviet era and from the World War II Germany. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (UkSSR) national anthem lasts about 45 seconds and the German Horst Wessel Lied also lasts about 45 seconds in the nine-minute work. This piece was not meant to provoke but to evoke.

This is the program note I provided to the NYYS in September, 2014:

PROGRAM NOTE

Марш y Hебуття [Marsh u Nebuttya]

Dedicated to the victims of hunger and fire

Completed August 1st, 2014.

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

—T.S. Eliot

NYYS had no complaints regarding the program note being too short or insufficient until six days before the Carnegie Hall concert.

The NYYS has had the score to “Marsh u Nebuttya” since September. They’ve rehearsed this piece for over three months; and I attended several of those rehearsals. They performed the piece on Feb. 22, 2015 at the United Palace Theater in New York. On March 2nd, just days before its Carnegie Hall performance, the executive director of the NYYS told me that these themes, these instrumental quotes, are offensive. Concerns about the content in this work were never mentioned to me until March 2nd. Over the single phone conversation I had with the executive director, I defended my work but without hesitation, NYYS executive director said that she had talked to president of the board and they have decided to cancel my work at Carnegie Hall on March 8th.

The old joke about how do you get to Carnegie Hall – you practice. Apparently you also have to self-censor. I’m disappointed that this work will no longer have the ability to speak for itself.

I’d like to sincerely thank the people and international organizations who have supported me and asked my work be heard.

Some additional explanation:

March 10th, 2015

The NYYS administration has said the decision to cancel “Marsh u Nebuttya” was made only after they discussed their concerns with me. This is incorrect. I asked to discuss this further after the Monday, March 2, call informing me of the cancellation – including by speaking to the president of the NYYS board. But I was told by the executive director that the decision to cancel had already been made and was final.

I never refused to answer any question about whether there was a “musical quote” in the piece. I was approached by a musician during a January rehearsal who said “there are musicians in the orchestra that heard there are Nazi themes;” I did not hesitate to confirm with this musician that, yes, it is the Horst Wessel Lied. From that day until the Monday, March 2, call informing me of the cancellation, no additional concerns were expressed to me and no requests for me to provide additional explanations were made.

 

— Jonas Tarm

Interviews regarding the cancellation:

New York Times – Michael Cooper

Boston NPR 90.9 wbur – Ed Siegel

Critical review of the score:

New York Times – Zachary Woolfe

Studio 360 – Alex Ross

 

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