October 8, 2021

With Kissinger as His Muse, Boyer’s Balance of Power Receives Acclaimed Premiere at the Kennedy Center

KENNEDY CENTER PREMIERE: Composer Peter Boyer received a lengthy standing ovation for his Balance of Power premiere in September. "It was a thrill that I will never forget. Certainly it was one of the most memorable moments of my career,” said Boyer, who is a member of the Music Department faculty. (Photo credit: Dan Chung)

For composer Peter Boyer, 2021 has been a year that’s mingled orchestral music with political statecraft.

In January, the premiere of Boyer’s Fanfare for Tomorrow took place during the inauguration of President Joe Biden; in September the Kennedy Center premiered another of his works, Balance of Power, which was commissioned for the National Symphony Orchestra’s (NSO) 90th season and in honor of the 95th birthday of Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State.

The Washington Post published a glowing review of the performance, praising each of Balance’s three movements—titled “A Sense of History,” “A Sense of Humor,” “A Sense of Direction”—for capturing Kissinger’s character as well as the essence of his diplomacy.

The review also noted the audience’s warm response and how “the applause went on like a fourth movement.”

Similarly the reviewer for Bachtrack described the work’s epic mood—”harp and horns spun scenes of destiny, promise, and grandeur as a big theme emerged”—as well as the moment when, after receiving a standing ovation, Boyer was approached by a child who offered congratulations and was hugged by the composer.

“That gracious act,” the reviewer wrote, “was an impulse felt across the theatre…”

Boyer, who is Helen M. Smith Chair of Music at CGU, says politics may seem to some an unlikely subject for the modern composer.

“Politics and orchestral music might be considered strange bedfellows,” said Boyer, “and the relationship between the two can be complicated.”

Prior to the commission for Balance, Boyer had only been commissioned to produce one other work about a political figure. That resulted in The Dream Lives On, a piece about the Kennedy brothers that was commissioned by the Boston Pops in 2010. (For more on that piece’s premiere, see this issue of The Flame magazine)

(Boyer points out that Fanfare performed at Biden’s inauguration can’t be considered a third piece about a political figure because it isn’t specifically about the character of the 46th president but rather captures a mood.)

REHEARSAL MOMENT: Boyer addresses the orchestra as conductor Thomas Wilkins (left) looks on. (Photo credit: Dan Chung)

A Challenging Project

The creation of Balance of Power, says Boyer, was “a far more difficult endeavor” than The Dream Lives On because he took much of his direction on the Kennedy project from the fact that the piece would feature narration of the brothers’ iconic remarks (which was done at the premiere by actors Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Ed Harris).

By contrast, Balance is solely an orchestral piece that “required a great deal of research in order to determine the concept” behind it.

“It was a great challenge to compose music which might somehow evoke all of this,” he adds, “but happily it seems to have turned out very well.”

What also turned out well was the NSO’s performance of the piece under conductor Thomas Wilkins, which pleased Boyer very much.

“I was absolutely delighted with how well the National Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Wilkins performed Balance of Power. The NSO is one of the finest orchestras in the United States (or indeed anywhere), and to hear one’s music performed by an ensemble at the highest level is always a thrill,” he said. “Receiving a lengthy standing ovation from a capacity crowd in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall was a thrill that I will never forget. Certainly, it was one of the most memorable moments of my career.”

COMPOSER AND CONDUCTOR: Peter Boyer (left) and Thomas Wilkins. (Photo credit: Dan Chung)

Boyer completed and delivered the piece to the Kennedy Center in December 2019 and because of the pandemic had to wait nearly two years to finally hear it.

Wilkins has conducted other Boyer pieces with several orchestras, including the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (where Boyer’s Silver Fanfare opened the Bowl seasons from 2015 to 2017), the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Cleveland Orchestra, “so I was fortunate to have a rapport with him in advance of this.”

Future Recording Plans

For those who weren’t fortunate enough to attend the premiere, there may be opportunities to hear Balance of Power and other works by Boyer, who is hopeful that a fourth album of his orchestral music may be coming soon.

There have been three previous full-length recordings of his music, with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, two of which are on Naxos American Classics.

“Plans for that fourth album are not quite confirmed but are getting closer,” he says, “so please stay tuned.”