Opposite-coast bouquets and brickbats for Weill and Sessions

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Wednesday, January 9, 2019

On this day in 1947, Pierre Monteux led the San Francisco Symphony in the premiere performance of the Second Symphony by American composer Roger Sessions, who was then 50 years old. Prior to this symphony, Sessions had written in a more broadly accessible style, but his Symphony No. 2 proved fairly dissonant and challenging for its time.

At the time, Sessions cautiously stated: “Tonality is complex and even problematical nowadays.” For their part, the San Francisco audiences found Session’s new style too complex and problematical. There was hardly any applause. Musical America’s critic wrote that Sessions’ Second “seemed to express the epitome of all that is worst in the life and thinking of today.”


Today, Sessions’ Second doesn’t sound all that challenging, but performances of this or any of his symphonies remain rare events.

While Sessions’ symphony was being panned in San Francisco, a new stage work by the expatriate German composer Kurt Weill opened to rave reviews in New York. Kurt Weill’s musical setting of Elmer Rice’s popular play “Street Scene” opened on Broadway on January 9th in 1947. “[It’s] the best contemporary musical production to grace any American stage,” enthused the Musical America critics. “We cannot imagine that an audience from any walk of life would not enjoy it. It has everything.”