In December 2017, Temple Contemporary premiered Symphony for a Broken Orchestra, a new composition by Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy Award-winning composer David Lang for 400 musicians using broken instruments gathered from Philadelphia public schools. Embracing new possibilities for sound making, the work was performed by an unusual ensemble: “The youngest performer was a 9-year-old cellist; the oldest, an 82-year-old oboist. It looked like the most diverse orchestra in America,” The New York Times reported.
We sat down with David Lang to discuss the ambitious project, music education, and how he thinks about classical music today. Below, we present excerpts from our conversation.
On music education: “It’s only because of music programs in the public schools in Los Angeles, where I grew up, that I became a musician.”
On composing Symphony for a Broken Orchestra: “I wanted to design a project that would have a range of musicians from across the city—professionals, amateurs, folk players, jazz players, improvisers, students…I want the people playing the instruments to look exactly like the audience.”
On virtuosity: “If we look at virtuosity as being given a task that is hard to accomplish, and then making the thing that the audience notices how you struggle to accomplish that goal, that seems like a great virtuosity definition to me.”
On classical music: “Classical music is a really good model for looking at some of the other problems that we have in the world that are larger than musical problems.”