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Photo: Greggory Clark

NAC announces new commission by renowned composer Philip Glass in memory of Peter Jennings

By Madeline Paiva on December 19, 2019

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On December 12, 2019, the National Arts Centre announced a newly commissioned work from Philip Glass honouring journalist and news anchor Peter Jennings. The theme of this work will be “truth in our times” and will explore the concepts of fake news and “alternative facts,” as per their press release.

A personal favourite of mine, Philip Glass is an innovative composer of operas, concertos, film scores and symphonies. His 1983 opera “Akhnaten” was performed at The Metropolitan Opera this past 2019-20 Season. Glass’s masterful works explore minimalism, with political themes and portraits of well-known figures in history. Glass’s operas are beautiful figurings of historical figures, portraits of scientists like Kepler and Galileo, adaptations of major literary works like Franz Kafka’s The Trial and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. Music Director Alexander Shelley said in the press release that “Philip Glass ranks among the most influential composers of our time, and is a unique and bold artist who has long explored themes of truth, honesty and justice through his work.”

The piece itself will be Glass’s first commission for the NAC Orchestra and will premiere during their 2020-2021 season. “It is a thrill and a privilege that he will be creating a new piece for Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra, honouring Peter Jennings’ legacy and scrutinizing a theme which has never seemed more important or relevant,” said Alexander Shelley in the press release. The new commission pays tribute to Peter Jennings’ legacy. Jennings was a Canadian-born American journalist and anchor on ABC. His decades of news reporting reflected his passion for free press and information and this commission will be an “ode to freedom of the press” as per the press release. The award winning reporter was a well-respected and influential journalist.

Glass is no stranger to Canadian works, working alongside Leonard Cohen to create “Book of Longing” in 2007. This composition, a song cycle combining poetry and music, set 23 poems from Cohen’s 2006 Book of Longing. The NAC Orchestra performed a concert of Glass’s works in 2016 in honour of him receiving the Glenn Gould Prize. Glass said, according to the press release, “I was very impressed by the NAC Orchestra when receiving the Glenn Gould Prize, and was excited to receive this commission from them to honour the person, work and ethos of Peter Jennings, on a theme which is very close to my heart.”

Anna Kristen Einarsdóttir, Managing Director of the NAC Orchestra, said “we are truly grateful to the Jennings family for bringing this work to life as it has such a strong and poignant message.” She continued in the release that “it’s already creating excitement and attracting international attention. Working with Philip Glass is a testament to the world-class reputation of the NAC Orchestra, and we look forward to the journey on which this work is sure to take us.”

This collaboration between Philip Glass and the NAC Orchestra is one to look out for! The legacy of Peter Jennings is one so important to journalism. His unwavering attention to and support of freedom of the press is one to remember and his impact on journalism has lasted long after his unfortunate passing at the age of 67.

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