Monday, August 29, 2011

9/11: Daron Hagen

In Manhattan, 9-11 dawned crisp, cool, and clear. Exquisite. My wife had only just left for school: the subway took her from 96th Street Station down to the World Trade Center where she transferred to a train out to Stony Brook where she was finishing the course work for her doctorate. My nephew had just moved to New York to begin college, moved into his NYU dorm room. I finished my first cup of coffee at around nine, sat down at the piano to work. The phone rang.

"Baby, turn on the television. A man just got on the train and said that a plane has flown into the World Trade Center. They've stopped the train. The conductor said there are no trains behind us. I can see the smoke." "Are you okay?" I asked. "Yes." "Okay. Sweetheart: stay off the phone. Call me when you get out to Stony Brook."

I squatted in front of the television and turned on CNN in time to see the second plane hit at 9:03. I called my nephew. "Where are you?" I asked. "I'm on the street, Uncle Daron," he said. "The air is gray." "Get up here as soon as you can," I ordered. "Start walking north now, fast."

I sprinted out to the deli at 98th and Broadway and bought staples and three gallons of spring water. The sidewalk vibrated with the thunder of military aircraft streaking fast and low southwards over the west side.

Later: "I'm in Stony Brook. Everything's locked down: nobody's getting out or going in to Manhattan," Gilda said. "You're okay?" "Yes. I'm staying with Matt and Sally."

I walked out to Broadway. Tractor-trailer trucks hurtled south in convoy through the dark at top speed, ignoring all the lights. I followed them on foot. Smell of steel. There was a super-fine white film of grit on everything. Cabs with the back seats ripped out headed downtown like a fleet of ferryboats.

Reflexively, I headed toward Midtown. I couldn't get past Washington Square. "Go home," the cop said, exhausted. "Oh. For God's sake just go home to your family." I stared at him, wringing my hands. He softened. "They're making sandwiches to send south over there across the park," he said, pointing. "Maybe they need a hand."

I remember thinking how beautiful the weather had been while standing stupidly at a folding table and spreading bright yellow mustard with a broken plastic knife on one piece of white bread after another.

I have lived in Manhattan since 1984. I used to take the trip to Erewhon every couple of weeks on the Staten Island Ferry just to rekindle—by watching "my" beloved skyline first recede then—on the return trip—regain its majesty. After that day, all I could think about when I took the ferry was the presence that absence makes. I haven't boarded it since.

Several months ago I had a long conversation about 9-11 with the Captain of the Police Precinct in which I now live. I asked him what the most enduring feeling he felt that his colleagues on the force retain about that day. "Shame," he said. Surprised, I asked why. "We're ashamed that it has taken so long to rebuild Ground Zero. There should have been something there within a year."

Daron Hagen
Hagen and Clare
Along with four symphonies, twelve concerti, over 150 art songs and song cycles, and forty chamber works, Daron Hagen (born 1961, in Milwaukee) is the composer of five highly-acclaimed, frequently-performed full-length operas: Shining Brow, Bandanna, New York Stories, and Amelia as well as two one-act operas: Vera of Las Vegas and The Antient Concert.
Other career highlights include Philharmonia, commissioned for the 150th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic, Much Ado, commissioned for the 75th anniversary of the Curtis Institute of Music, The Waking Father, for the Kings Singers, and major concerti for colleagues Joel Fan, Gary Graffman, Soren Hermannsson, Sara Sant'Ambrogio, Jeffrey Khaner, Yumi Kurosawa, Jaime Laredo, Michael Ludwig, and Sharon Robinson; works for the Amelia Piano Trio, Borromeo Quartet, Elements String Quartet, Finisterra Piano Trio, Lark Quarte+, Maverick Concerts, Music from Curtis, Present Music, Sweet Plantain and Voxare String Quartets and the Wisconsin Brass Quintet; and commissions from the Albany Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Denver Chamber Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony, National Symphony, New Mexico Symphony, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, and Wisconsin Philharmonic, among others.
Mr. Hagen's music is widely performed and recorded. In 2009, Naxos released Shining Brow (Buffalo Philharmonic / Falletta) and the complete Hagen Piano Trios (Finisterra Trio). Bandanna was released on Albany under his baton in 2007; Vera of Las Vegas on the CRI label. Nearly all of Hagen's vocal music is recorded and available commercially.
During 2012-13, Hagen's operas will receive new productions and / or premieres in Austin, California, Chicago, Como (Italy), New York City, Sarasota, and Sondrio (Italy). LyricFest (Philadelphia) and Virginia Tech will premiere new song cycles. The Hawaii and Seattle Symphony Orchestras will premiere new works. The Voxare String Quartet will premiere String Quartet No. 2 in Washington and release a CD of Hagen's works on Naxos.
Mr. Hagen lives in New York City with his wife Gilda Lyons and sons Atticus and Seamus.

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