The concert that went ahead on 9/11

The concert that went ahead on 9/11

Comment Of The Day

norman lebrecht

September 11, 2021

From David Hilton:

I am glad to read the recollections above of the concerts given in the days immediately after 9/11. But for those of us who were at the BBC Proms on 9/11, the experience was unforgettable in a different way. The concert was scheduled to begin at 7:30pm, London time, still only 2:30pm in New York. Only 5 hours after the attack. I thought surely the concert would be cancelled — everything else was being shuttered — but went out of curiosity or perhaps because of a kind of numbness that sparked a desire to be amongst others.

But Christophe Eshenbach and L’Orchestre de Paris had decided to give their program as planned, to not let terrorists cow them into silence. They must have had to reach this decision when it was still only midday in New York and much was still unknown and rumours were rife.

Eshenbach made a few simple remarks that were deeply felt and appropriate, including a suggestion that music was if anything more needed now than ever.

The Funeral March from the “Eroica” Symphony was played; it clearly moved the audience and many of the players as well.

But Helène Grimaud, herself a New Yorker at that time, followed with a performance of the Beethoven 4th piano concerto that I will never forget. As Tim Ashley observed in The Guardian, “Eschenbach’s soloist, Hélène Grimaud, has recorded the work with the New York Philharmonic. Perhaps it was memories of that orchestra that inspired her to give the performance of a lifetime, playing with a combination of intensity and limpidity, attacking the cadenzas with blistering anger and, in the Andante, achieving a serenity at once tenuous and timeless.”

Bravi to them all for taking a stand on the day itself. On 9/11. It is curious that the BBC never, to my knowledge, includes any reference to this remarkable concert in the many hours of commemoration it has otherwise devoted to remembering the events of 9/11. For me it is one of the true landmark days in the storied history of the Proms, even if the BBC itself has forgotten the occasion.



  • RW2013 says:

    I remember going to hear Peter Serkin playing the complete Schönberg in Berlin on 9/11. A very sombre concert made more so when it was requested that there be no applause.

  • Micaelo Cassetti says:

    Eschenbach and Grimaud are true musicians, true professionals.
    As for the BBC… Those who rewrite history…

  • CJ says:

    John Eliot Gardiner also decided to maintain his very moving St Mattew Passion the day after the terrorist attacks in Brussels in March 2016 (bombings in airport and metro).
    The concert hall was packed despite the worries.

  • Another listener says:

    Three things to add:
    1. I think the Marche Funebre replaced Coriolan;
    2. After the Marche Funebre, some idiots started clapping, but were swiftly dampened and told off by the sombre collective air;
    3. The main piece, Symphonie Fantastique, never sounded so surreal.

  • Akutagawa says:

    The one year I got a season ticket for the Proms, which provides entrance to the last night, was 2001. All the usual festivities were dropped, and from what I can remember, the items included the Barber Adagio for Strings (people were asked not to clap but some people did anyway) and the Tippett spirituals. It was a very odd experience, not least because of an ongoing spat between a very drunk English guy in the boxes who had obviously come for fun and shouted God Save the Queen at random moments, and left-leaning prommers in the arena who wanted to talk about the Iraqi child victims of UN sanctions. Everybody, including the conductor Leonard Slatkin, just about got through the performance, and consigned it to oblivion thereafter, where it probably belongs.

    • Jack says:

      I saw the same performance and was deeply moved. This concert, along with the playing of the American national anthem outside of Buckingham Palace, allowed me to begin processing the terrible events of that day.

      • Akutagawa says:

        Were you in the hall or did you see the concert on television? Down in the arena moshpit, I just remember the atmosphere being really tense, especially when we were asked to sing the American national anthem. Memories may have conveniently faded (that’s what the passage of time is there for), but in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 there were a lot of people in the UK, and elsewhere, who were, how shall I put it, less compassionate than they should have been about the loss of primarily American life. It may be an unpalatable thing to remind people of now, but it doesn’t make it less true at the time.

  • Nik says:

    Christoph Eschenbach is his name, not “Christophe Eshenbach”.

  • Joe says:

    Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony orchestra also played a concert the night of 9/11/2001 In Lucerne.

  • Danielk says:

    I am desperately looking for the DVD recording of this September 11 concert in London. If someone could tell me where to find it, that would be wonderful.
    Many thanks in advance