For the brilliant, 27-year-old composer Jake Runestad, honoring American war veterans through music was something he thought long and hard about before he put a note to paper. For acclaimed classical pianist Jeffrey Biegel, being the soloist in the world premiere of Runestad’s “Dreams of the Fallen” will be particularly meaningful, since his piano will act the role of the veteran in this work honoring all who have sacrificed in military service to this country.
The world premiere of Dreams of the Fallen will take place on Veterans Day evening, Monday, November 11, at 7 PM, in the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center of the National WWII Museum. In partnership with the museum, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra will present a concert that also includes Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and the stirring Lincoln Portrait, narrated by actor John Goodman, star of the upcoming films The Monuments Men and Inside Llewyn David.
Runestad’s composition is based on the poems of Brian Turner, an Iraqi war veteran.
“I was just blown away by them,” Runestad says. “They are so powerful and they really do lend themselves to a musical setting.”
But the words didn’t drive him to immediate action.
“I didn’t write any music down for a very long time,” he recalls. “I needed for all the words to sink into my mind. When I did start writing, the music flowed really easily. The rhythm of the words really dictated where the music went.”
In addition to the piano in the guise of veteran, the Symphony Chorus plays the role of poet, singing three of Turner’s verses. Working long distance, the Minneapolis-based Runestad conquered the geography first by sending the Chorus the score and then by having two video chat rehearsals with them.
The project began a couple of years ago, when Biegel met Runestad during a break in concert rehearsals of a work written for Biegel by William Bolcum. A few-minutes chat led to a longer meeting.
“And I sensed in 10 minutes, there was something special about this guy,” Biegel says. So they agreed that Runestad would create a new work reflecting the continued struggles of returning veterans, something Runestad felt strongly about. Biegel set about finding exactly how he would be involved.
“Basically, I had to ask Jake, ‘what’s my role?'” Biegel says. “He said, you are the veteran. A chorus is going to be performing the text and you have to interpolate that.”
Biegel spent the next months learning what that meant. He read all he could find on the challenges of the returning veteran.
“I decided the best way to understand what veterans feel like — I never served in a war — was to contact as many veterans as I could,” he says. “So I sent out e-mails all over the place; I even Skyped a couple of times.”
For Runestad, who has visited New Orleans only once and then for a short time, having this work premiered by the LPO in the National World War II Museum is the most appropriate way to honor military veterans.
“I am so excited to be part of this, and to be working with Conductor James Paul will be wonderful.”
For Biegel, it is the opportunity to return to the Crescent City and work with the LPO.
“I have a very special relationship with the orchestra,” he says fondly. “And this location is the ideal one for this premiere.”
For ticket information about this November 11 one-time concert presented by Morgan Stanley, visit the LPO’s official site or call 504-523-6530.