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First Monday Revives Kirchner's "Lily"

Laurence Lesser Realizes a Dream

First Monday at Jordan Hall Presents Leon Kirchner’s opera Lily in Chamber Version, April 2

Revival Long a Cherished Dream of Laurence Lesser

Performance Features Soprano Diana Hoagland Who Sang on 1973 Recording

In his obituary of composer Leon Kirchner, the New York Time’s Anthony Tommasini wrote, “Kirchner’s biggest disappointment of his career was his only opera, Lily, based on the Saul Bellow novel Henderson the Rain KingLily took 18 years from its conception to its premiere production, in 1977 at the New York City Opera (original cast in photo).” Critical reception was not favorable and “Mr. Kirchner always longed for a revival to prove his critics wrong.”

Cellist Laurence Lesser, President Emeritus and Walter W. Naumburg Chair in Music, has similarly dreamed of giving Lily a second chance. A longtime friend of Kirchner, he is convinced that the work has not been truly appreciated. And he felt that Boston, where Kirchner was for decades one of the most distinguished musical citizens (he was a legendary professor at Harvard and an inspired  conductor and pianist), was the perfect place to mount a revival.

Lesser (and Kirchner’s) fond desire will be realized April 2, when First Monday at Jordan Hall presents excerpts from Lily in a chamber version for 11 players, voice, and electronics. Performers include Diana Hoagland (in photo right), the soprano who sang on the 1973 recording; Sooyun Kim, flute; Benjamin Fox, oboe; Richard Stoltzman, clarinet; Christopher Watford, bassoon; Jaclyn Rainey, French horn; James Buswell, violin; Dimitri Murrath, viola; Laurence Lesser, cello; Joel Fan, piano; Sarah Bob, celeste; Robert Schulz, percussion. The 8 pm concert is free and open to the public.

The opera concerns a wealthy pig farmer who, fed up with the corruption of American society, takes his family to Africa to find a purer way to live. Richard Dyer writing in The Boston Globe just after the New York premiere in 1977, described Lily as “not so much a dramatization of Saul Bellow’s [book] as a musical mediation on its meaning.”  He said: “Lily doesn’t conform to the expectations we have formed of the musical theatre—which doesn’t thrive on meditation. But every instant of Lily sounded the meditation of a sensitive reader and of a profoundly responsive musical mind.”

Tommasini echoed this comment in reviewing the 2011 reissue of the recording (Jeremy Eichler of The Boston Globe included the album on his Top 10 for 2011). “The opera may have been too avant-garde and too unconventional in its storytelling to grip critics and audiences. Kirchner’s 22-minute chamber version has episodes of mood-setting music for chamber ensemble and a voice-over monologue from the novel, which presents Henderson in a demonic outburst. (‘America is so big, and everybody is working, making, digging, bulldozing.’) It ends with an entrancing song for soprano…Today Kirchner’s intriguing approach to opera seems hardly outside the bounds. The time may have come for a revival of Lily.”

For further information, check the NEC Website or call the NEC Concert Line at 617-585-1122.  NEC’s Jordan Hall, Brown Hall, Williams Hall and the Keller Room are located at 30 Gainsborough St., corner of Huntington Ave. St. Botolph Hall is located at 241 St. Botolph St. between Gainsborough and Mass Ave.


Soprano Diana Hoagland has appeared as soloist with the Boston Symphony, the Detroit Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the American Symphony Orchestra, the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra and the Rochester Philharmonic,  performing with Leopold Stokowski, Seigi Ozawa,  Michael Tilson  Thomas, Gunther Schuller,  John Nelson, Leon Kirchner,  Richard Westenburg, David Zinman, Diane Wittry and  Johannes Sommary.  She has performed oratorio and chamber music with many organizations, including The New York Oratorio Society, Musica Sacra, The Handel and Haydn Society of Boston, Clarion Concerts, The Dessoff  Choirs, Amor Artist, Speculum Musicae, The Performers Committee for Contemporary Music and premier concerts for the Fromm Foundation.  She has been guest artist at the Meadowbrook Music Festival, the Ambler Music Festival, and the Marlboro Music Festival where she worked with Leon Kirchner during his composition of his opera Lily and recorded both soprano roles for Columbia Records. High Fidelity wrote in its review of this recording "....sung here with perfect control and expression by Diana Hoagland." 

In his recent review of Lily in the New York Times, Anthony Tommasini wrote "It ends with an entrancing song for soprano, sung here with effortless accuracy and lovely sound by Diana Hoagland.


Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory in Boston, MA offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 720 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world.  Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars.  Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide.  Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.

The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions.  On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, contemporary improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Programs and Partnerships Program, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors.  Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music, jazz, and contemporary improvisation.

NEC presents more than 900 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, century-old, beautifully restored concert hall.  These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz, contemporary improvisation, and opera scenes.  Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre or Paramount Theatre in Boston.

NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.

Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Public Relations Manager
New England Conservatory
290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115