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NY premiere of Stucky’s August 4, 1964 on May 11

On May 11, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and soloists will present the New York premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steven Stucky’s August 4, 1964 at Carnegie Hall. Commissioned by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra to commemorate the birth centennial of President Lyndon B. Johnson in 2008, the evening-long concert drama explores two defining issues of the controversial leader’s presidency: the Vietnam War and civil rights. Stucky and librettist Gene Scheer have based August 4, 1964 on the tragic events of that date 46 years ago: the discovery in Mississippi of the bodies of three recently murdered young civil-rights workers and a disputed “attack” on two American warships in the Gulf of Tonkin.
August 4, 1964 explores that day’s historic and tragic events from two perspectives: that of the mothers of two of the murdered men, and reactions from within the Oval Office. At the time in which the concert drama is set, President Johnson is widely unpopular at this point in his presidency, despite several noteworthy accomplishments; Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara is wrapped up in the United States’ growing involvement in Vietnam; the mothers of two of the civil-rights workers, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, have just lost their sons in the horrifying racial war raging at home – foreshadowing the 58,000 Americans who were to die in Southeast Asia by the end of the as yet undeclared Vietnam War.
Steven Stucky was already interested in composing a work based on contemporary American history when he first received the commission from Dallas. “I was 14 years old in 1964, at the time of these events,” remembers Stucky. “I was a junior high school student in Texas when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, and it was only a year later that the incidents in Mississippi and Vietnam took place. I felt very close to and conflicted about these events. When Gene sent me his idea for the opening of the libretto – in which Mrs. Chaney and Mrs. Goodman sing “It was the saddest moment of my life: August 4, 1964, the day they found my son’s body” – I knew not only that I could compose this piece but that I had to!”

Libretto and sources
The libretto for August 4, 1964, based on documents, diaries, and reportage of the time, inhabits the worlds of the principal characters in the politico-historic drama unfolding that day in Mississippi and Vietnam (with repercussions around America and the world): the mothers of two of the slain civil-rights workers, Mrs. Chaney and Mrs. Goodman, and President Lyndon B. Johnson and his Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara. The chorus, in the manner of an ancient Greek chorus, comments on the tragedy as it unfolds. Mrs. Chaney sings of her family’s deep roots in black Mississippi; Mrs. Goodman reads a postcard her son wrote to her the day he died. Johnson rants that “all the historians are Harvard people. It just isn’t fair … I spilled my guts getting that Civil Rights Act.” McNamara’s brief “Had We Known” scene (“What would have happened had we known?”) is taken from a diary entry many years later.
May 11, 2011
August 4, 1964 (New York premiere)
Composer: Steven Stucky
Librettist: Gene Scheer
Mrs. Chaney: Indira Mahajan, soprano
Mrs. Goodman: Kristine Jepson, mezzo-soprano
Robert S. McNamara: Vale Rideout, tenor
President Lyndon B. Johnson: Rod Gilfry, baritone
Dallas Symphony Chorus
Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Jaap van Zweden, conductor
Carnegie Hall
New York, NY
To learn more about Steven Stucky, please visit his web site at

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