Press Releases

America’s Requiem – A Knee on The Neck

July 19, 2022

America’s Requiem – A Knee on The Neck

Featuring the world premiere of composer Adolphus Hailstork and librettist Herbert Martin’s Requiem Cantata
in memory of George Floyd


March 26 at Strathmore
March 28 at Capital One Hall


(NORTH BETHESDA, MD) — The National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale, in partnership with The Washington Chorus, present America’s Requiem – A Knee on The Neck. The long-awaited season program features the world premiere of Adolphus Hailstork and Herbert Martin’s A Knee on The Neck alongside Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem. Offered as a tribute to George Floyd, this presentation marks almost two years since his untimely death with two poignant works that create space for remembrance and reflection.

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“We are tremendously grateful and so humbled to have the opportunity to present the world premiere of A Knee on The Neck as part of this program. It’s an important moment in time to share such a relevant piece of music. While society’s struggle continues today, we hope our audience can engage with this work, learn from it, and carry hope and something positive as they leave the hall,” said National Philharmonic Music Director Piotr Gajewski.

Written in honor of George Floyd, A Knee on The Neck is a Requiem Cantata with music by composer Adolphus Hailstork and text by librettist and poet Herbert Martin. Moved by Mr. Floyd’s murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, 2020—and by the nationwide outcry for justice that followed—the duo came together in grief to create an artistic response that commemorates his life and tragic loss. The result is a powerful piece of music that speaks to the challenges which Black Americans have endured, engages listeners to share in that painful journey, and recognizes Mr. Floyd’s indelible legacy.

Martin developed the poetry within one week of George Floyd’s murder and then invited Hailstork to create the musical setting. To fulfill this challenging and critical undertaking, Hailstork looked to one of his previous compositions for inspiration (Hercules, 2014). In the 18 months since the genesis of Hailstork and Martin’s collaboration, A Knee on The Neck has evolved into a massive choral- orchestral piece where the music is deeply informed by the text and is therefore filled with imagery and metaphors. It alludes to the turbulent Minneapolis cityscape with its raucous opening sequence; to Mr. Floyd’s heritage by incorporating African drumming and African American spirituals; to Mr. Floyd’s final words with cascading vocal passages; to the absolute stillness of death in a crucial moment of cesura; and to society’s hope for peace with a closing hymn. The music and text also reference similar moments in history where Black Americans, such as Emmett Till and Breonna Taylor, were the victims of unjustifiable violence due to racism and discrimination.

Remarking on his music’s connection to Black history and his role in creating A Knee on The Neck, Hailstork explains that one of his goals as a Black American composer has been to contribute to the discourse through his art. He stated, “What can an artist do? I can speak on the issues and put them in my work. These are the tragedies and triumphs of a people who have been beaten up for 400 years. Does anyone speak for them? Who writes pieces that speak for the existence of African Americans in the United States? I’ll take on that job.”

Scored for an orchestra, a large chorus, and three soloists, A Knee on The Neck is made possible through a collaborative effort between three D.C.-area institutions: the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale, The Washington Chorus, and The Howard University Chorale. These ensembles are joined onstage by mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, tenor Norman Shankle, and baritone Kenneth Overton to perform the work for the first time.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor comprises the other half of the program. Commissioned in 1791, it is widely speculated that Mozart was writing the work with the intent of having it played at his own funeral. While the piece was left unfinished at the time of his death, Mozart’s student Franz Xaver Süssmayr completed it a year later in 1792.

Written as “a mass for the dead,” Mozart’s stirring Requiem complements this musical tribute to George Floyd, offering repose for his soul and the souls of those who have been lost to senseless acts of violence. The seminal work is being performed by the above mentioned ensembles and vocalists, with the addition of soprano Janai Brugger.

As Chorus Master for this program, Artistic Director of The Washington Chorus Dr. Eugene Rogers shared, “What an honor it is to work with these historic organizations on two critically important works. For me, the pairing of Hailstork and Martin’s A Knee on The Neck with Mozart’s Requiem offers us the opportunity to honor those we have lost, to reflect upon the legacies they leave behind, and to re-examine our own life’s journey moving forward. Preparing these two works has been a transformative experience for the singers, and we are eager to share them with the community.”

Full Concert Details:

America’s Requiem – A Knee on The Neck
Piotr Gajewski, conductor
Eugene Rogers, chorus master
with National Philharmonic Chorale and members of The Washington Chorus and The Howard University Chorale

Janai Brugger, soprano
J’Nai Bridges, mezzo soprano
Norman Shankle, tenor
Kenneth Overton, baritone
Saturday, March 26, 2022 at 8:00 pm at The Music Center at Strathmore
Monday, March 28, 2022 at 7:30 pm at Capital One Hall

America’s Requiem commemorates the life and tragic loss of George Floyd with the world premiere of Adolphus Hailstork’s A Knee on The Neck, composed around the backbone of the poetry of Dr. Herbert Martin and performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale under the direction of Maestro Piotr Gajewski, members of The Washington Chorus and The Howard University Chorale, and featured vocalists J’Nai Bridges, Norman Shankle, and Kenneth

Overton. The program concludes with Mozart’s seminal Requiem in D Minor, also featuring soprano Janai Brugger.

Adolphus Hailstork, A Knee on The Neck (World Premiere)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Süssmayr), Requiem in D Minor, K. 626


National Philharmonic is grateful for the very generous support of Anne Claysmith and the Paul M. Angell Foundation for the world premiere of A Knee on The Neck.
Support for the guest artists is provided by Kathleen Knepper.
Additional support is provided by The Mather and Hogan Lovell.

Ticket Information

Tickets ($45–$99) are available online at for the concert at Strathmore and for the concert at Capital One Hall. Kids 17 and under can attend National Philharmonic performances for free through the All Kids. All Free. All the Time. initiative.

Health and Safety Protocols

All guests at any indoor National Philharmonic events at any location will need to be fully vaccinated with the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and must show proof of vaccination with their ticket upon entry to the theater. These policies will be evaluated regularly based on updated community health data, public safety best practices, and government guidance.

Unvaccinated patrons without medical exemption, including children not yet eligible for the vaccine, will not be permitted to attend National Philharmonic performances. National Philharmonic will not accept proof of negative test. Please note that this may differ from the policies of individual venues.

In addition to vaccine protocols, patrons will be required to wear masks in the venue and through the duration of National Philharmonic performances.

About Herbert Martin (Librettist)

Herbert Woodward Martin, born in 1933, served as professor of English and poet-in-residence at the University of Dayton for more than three decades where he taught creative writing and African American literature. He has devoted decades to editing and giving performances of the works of the poet and novelist Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906). He is also the editor of four books as well as the author of nine volumes of poetry.

Adolphus Hailstork, born in 1941, received his doctorate in composition from Michigan State University, where he was a student of H. Owen Reed. He had previously studied at the Manhattan School of Music, under Vittorio Giannini and David Diamond; at the American Institute at Fontainebleau with Nadia Boulanger; and at Howard University with Mark Fax.

Dr. Hailstork has written numerous works for chorus, solo voice, piano, organ, various chamber ensembles, band, and orchestra. Recent commissions include Rise For Freedom, an opera about the Underground Railroad, premiered in the fall of 2007 by the Cincinnati Opera Company; Set Me On A Rock (re: Hurricane Katrina), for chorus and orchestra, commissioned by the Houston Choral Society

About Adolphus Hailstork (Composer)

(2008); and the choral ballet, The Gift Of The Magi, for treble chorus and orchestra (2009). In the fall of 2011, Zora, We’re Calling You, a work for speaker and orchestra was premiered by the Orlando Symphony. I Speak Of Peace, commissioned by the Bismarck Symphony (Beverly Everett, conductor) in honor of (and featuring the words of) President John F. Kennedy was premiered in November of 2013.

Dr. Hailstork’s newest works include The World Called (based on Rita Dove’s poem “Testimonial”), a work for soprano, chorus, and orchestra commissioned by the Oratorio Society of Virginia (premiered in May 2018); and Still Holding On (February 2019), an orchestra work commissioned and premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He is currently working on his Fourth Symphony, and A Knee on The Neck (tribute to George Floyd) for chorus and orchestra.

Dr. Hailstork is a retired professor and a much-commissioned composer. He and his wife Jin reside in Virginia Beach. VA.

About the Soloists

Janai Brugger, soprano
J’Nai Bridges, mezzo-soprano
Norman Shankle, tenor
Kenneth Overton, baritone

About the National Philharmonic

Celebrated for showcasing world-renowned guest artists in time-honored symphonic masterpieces, National Philharmonic continuously strives to create remarkable educational opportunities in the community while promoting diversity and representation in classical music.

National Philharmonic is an accessible, enriching component in the Greater Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area, believing that music has the power to spark imagination and shape the world around us. As the only organization with a united orchestra and chorus in the region, over the years National Philharmonic has expanded its footprint beyond its home at Strathmore, with year-round masterclasses along with Summer String and Summer Chorale Institutes for youth, armed services programs, and partnerships with community organizations. In addition to these programs, National Philharmonic fosters a love of music in young people across the region by offering free admission to all children between the ages 7 to 17 years old.

About The Washington Chorus

A three-time nominated and two-time Grammy Award winner, the 160-voice Washington Chorus presents an annual subscription series at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, regularly performs at the invitation of the National Symphony Orchestra, and appears annually at the Music Center at Strathmore in Maryland and Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Virginia.

TWC was the first major Washington area chorus to be founded independent of a church or college. In 1961 Hugh Hayward, a medical doctor and classically trained musician, founded the Oratorio Society of Montgomery County, which became known as the Oratorio Society of Washington, and is now celebrated under the name of The Washington Chorus. In 1971, Robert Shafer succeeded Hayward as music director, leading the chorus for more than three decades with great distinction, including two Grammy Awards. From 2008–2017 Julian Wachner led the organization with education and innovation at the forefront of his programs. Christopher Bell brought unparalleled attention to precision and clarity to the ensemble with his trademark flair during his tenure as Artistic Director from 2017 to 2020. The Chorus’ fifth Artistic Director Eugene Rogers is widely regarded as one of the most acclaimed next-generation conductors and musical thought leaders today working at the intersection of classical music and social change.

Media Contacts

For National Philharmonic:

Camille Cintrón Devlin
(571) 317-9317

For The Washington Chorus:

Amy Killion
(703) 559-9714

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