Interview with Conductor John Sigerson, National Music Director of the Schiller Institute
Mr. Sigerson will be conducting a series of four concerts of Mozart’s Requiem on the 15th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9-11. Below are some of his thoughts on this living memorial.
Q: What inspired these concerts on 9-11? Why Mozart’s Requiem?
It has long been my conviction that any Classical requiem, and Mozart’s in particular, should always be dedicated to the memory of the life of a particular person or persons. After all, Mozart himself, as he composed it on his deathbed, knew that he was celebrating his own life and his imminent death. Regardless of whether or not the Requiem is part of a religious service—as it will be when we perform it on September 11 at St. Joseph Cathedral in Brooklyn—the Requiem is a deeply sacred work which should never be performed for mere entertainment.
This idea has always guided the LaRouche movement’s performances of this work. The first time was in the Spring of 1985, when we performed it in memory of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who had been assassinated the previous October. It was these performances, in tandem with Lyndon LaRouche’s now-famous collaboration with President Reagan on the Strategic Defense Initiative for peace and development, which put the LaRouche movement squarely on the map as a significant force of change.
I had similar thoughts in 2013, when we considered how to honor the life of President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated 50 years earlier. We discovered that in January 1964, the Requiem was performed under Erich Leinsdorf’s baton at the Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston, with the Kennedy family present, and we decided to perform it in that same cathedral, on the same day, exactly 50 years later. You can view that historic performance on the Schiller Institute website.
So, when we began discussing how to help give closure and justice to those who perished in the attacks 15 years ago—and also those who died in the aftermath, and who continue to suffer and die—Mozart’s Requiem was the obvious choice.
Q; Your chorus sings, and your orchestra will play at a lower tuning of A at 432 Hz. Why?
This is the tuning preferred by all the great Classical composers, and which Giuseppe Verdi demanded be adopted as a new standard for Italy. Since the mid-1980s, the Schiller Institute has been campaigning to replace A=440 Hz and higher – considerably higher in some cities in Europe nowadays – with this Verdi tuning, also known as the scientific tuning, as the new international standard, because it uniquely maximizes the beauty and freedom of the human singing voice. In the 1990s, I co-authored a book containing hundreds of examples demonstrating this principle, and virtually all the great Classical singers of that era signed a petition demanding a return to sanity in tuning, and a warning that failure to do so would result in the disappearance of truly great Verdi voices.
It has taken some time, but many musicians around the world now realize that we are right and are edging toward the new standard.
Q: You are also performing four Negro spirituals…
It’s a long story, which goes back to the Schiller Institute’s work with the progeny of Antonin Dvorak’s famous visit to America and his work with the African-American intelligentsia, as typified by the composer Harry Burleigh, and their effort to found a National Conservatory of Music. This grouping realized that the Negro spirituals, as popularized by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, were not merely songs of protest against oppression, but that when they are performed properly, they contain an assertion of humanity which rises above race and nationality. The Schiller Institute worked closely for many years with a remarkable woman, Sylvia Olden Lee, whose father sang in with the Fisk group, and who was associated with an equally remarkable network of Classically-trained African-American artists such as Robert McFerrin and William Warfield. Sylvia, Robert, and Bill are now in heaven; however, there are still many who were touched by their genius, and we are now working with a number of them to foster the proper performance of these songs, which resonate within all people who seek something more than mere entertainment.