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America’s Requiem – A Knee on The Neck

America’s Requiem A Knee on The Neck

Capital One Hall
Jordan Wright
March 30, 2022

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

Soprano Janai Brugger, mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, Music Director Piotr Gajewski, tenor Norman Shankle, baritone Kenneth Overton, the National Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorale, and members of The Washington Chorus and The Howard University Chorale

On March 28th the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale, in partnership with The Washington Chorus and The Howard University Chorale presented the world premiere of Composer Adolphus Hailstork and Librettist Herbert Martin’s A Knee on The Neck alongside Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem. Written as a tribute to George Floyd, their work marks almost two years since Floyd’s untimely death providing a time for remembrance and reflection.

National Philharmonic Conductor and Music Director Piotr Gajewski said, “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.”

Photo/Elman Studio

Written in honor of George Floyd, A Knee on The Neck is a Requiem Cantata. 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 engaging listeners to share in that painful journey.

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 their 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 filled with beautiful imagery and metaphors incorporating both African drumming and African American spirituals. The music and text also reference Black Americans, Emmett Till and Breonna Taylor, victims of unjustifiable violence due to racism and discrimination.

Scored for an orchestra, a large chorus and three soloists, A Knee on The Neck is a collaborative effort between the DC area institutions led by Artistic Director of The Washington Chorus and Chorus Master, Dr. Eugene Rogers to include The Howard University Chorale. These ensembles are joined onstage by mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, tenor Norman Shankle, soprano Janai Brugger and baritone Kenneth Overton.

Photo/Elman Studio

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor comprises the other half of the program. Commissioned in 1791, it is thought Mozart wrote the work with the intention 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.

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.

About Adolphus Hailstork – Composer

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 (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. His 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.

At Capital One Hall, 7750 Capital One Tower Road, Tysons Corner, VA 222102.  For tickets and information for other performances visit To learn more about the symphony visit National Philharmonic. To learn more about the 160-voice three-time nominated and two-time Grammy Award-winner Washington Chorus, visit Washington Chorus.

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