Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 36
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
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Radio Marathon of Contemporary Music To Commemorate Victims of 9/11 Attack

Anne Levin

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Marvin Rosen was doing his radio show at Princeton University’s WPRB-FM. A phone call from his wife at 10 a.m. alerted him to the horrific events unfolding at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.

“I was stunned. I didn’t know what the heck was going on,” recalls Mr. Rosen, who is known for his radio show Classical Discoveries. “I happened to be doing a show called East Meets West, and I was playing a piece by Henry Cowell called Homage to Iran. The show was about understanding music of different cultures. It was just such a bizarre coincidence.”

That next hour was probably the most difficult on the air that Mr. Rosen has ever experienced. Since that unforgettable day, he has commemorated 9/11 with several tributes. But the 24-hour, on-air marathon he will begin on Saturday, September 10 at 7 p.m. is the most comprehensive live show he has ever compiled. Classical Discoveries will be totally devoted to music written by composers from all over the world, most of whom have written works specifically as a response to the tragedy.

“From electronic works that show the anger about the attacks, in which you can hear the intensity, to pieces of reflection, this is a real variety,” says Mr. Rosen, a pianist on the faculty of Westminster Conservatory of Music. “There are pieces with words — one has names of the victims. There are beautiful requiems. It’s just such a mix. People express themselves in so many different ways. It doesn’t surprise me, because when you go through some of the works written after World War II, you find the same kind of anger or reflection and meditation.”

Once Mr. Rosen came up with the idea for the marathon, he put out a call for recordings on the internet site Sequenza21 and others that specialize in new music. “What happened is that I set up a special email address, and a number of composers sent me recordings,” he says. “Many were able to get clearance for broadcast. I got a number of works that were never commercially recorded. You add those to the collection I have of music that was commercially recorded for 9/11, and you really have something special.”

Mr. Rosen has been a presence on WPRB-FM since 1997. A native of Englewood, he grew up in Princeton. He is a composer himself, with two CDs on the market. He has devoted himself to promoting new classical music, which he feels is largely misunderstood.

“People have this feeling that just because something is written today or in the twentieth century, it’s going to be something that is very difficult to listen to,” he says. “And it’s not at all. I’m not saying the great masters are not great. They are. But we need to move on. We’re living now in one of the most exciting times in music history. We’re getting exposure to music that’s out there from all over the world, and the composers are writing in many different styles. There is something out there for everybody. We need to just get people to have a little bit of an open mind, and once they do, they realize that music written in our time can be so enjoyable.”

Most of the pieces Mr. Rosen has lined up for the WPRB marathon are reflective in nature, “but there is a variety,” he says. “There are symphonic works that have a spiritual quality to them.”

About 75 composers will be represented during the 24 hours. “I’m finding out as I go through this that a number of these will be premiere broadcasts,” he says. “The amount of talent out there, among composers who are not household words, is tremendous. It’s very exciting for me. It’s what I like to do and what I feel it is necessary to do.”

Staying awake and alert during the broadcast won’t be a problem, Mr. Rosen says. Not a big coffee drinker, he plans to keep his energy up with tea, nuts, and a change of clothes. “I shave, I do all the things I would already do, keeping it as normal as possible,” he says. “The only thing I don’t have is a night’s sleep. People calling me during these things, and they do help dramatically. It’s communication with the public that keeps me going more than anything.”

Like so many people, Mr. Rosen has his own 9/11 stories. A cousin who worked for the financial firm Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost hundreds of workers in the tragedy, happened, mercifully, to be on the road the day of the attacks.

“The most inspirational thing about all of this is that I’m doing something to support our living composers and doing something special for all of the families and the victims,” Mr. Rosen says, with a catch in his voice. “It will be a very emotional program. But once it starts, it will be a radio program for me and I’ll be fine.”

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