The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may have left her biggest mark on the law, but she was also a champion of classical music.
She regularly attended opera performances, most notably at the Santa Fe Opera, appeared as a supernumerary (silent actor) in several productions with her fellow judge, friend and ideological training partner Antonin Scalia, and even performed a role in Donizetti Daughter of the Regiment.
It is therefore fitting that the Dallas Symphony Orchestra honors Ginsburg in a tribute concert on October 7.
For the occasion, the DSO has co-commissioned American composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first female Pulitzer Prize winner for music, to write a work for orchestra, piano and mezzo soprano. Denyce Graves, who performed at the Ginsburg Memorial Ceremony at the United States Capitol last year, will be the singer.
When New York pianist Jeffrey Biegel approached Zwilich with the idea of a memorial composition, she said she got goosebumps. “If I don’t get goosebumps thinking about the idea, I say no,” she said.
Zwilich, now 82, was one of the first American women to lead a major career as a composer, producing works for top orchestras, soloists and chamber ensembles.
His new piece, Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg, retraces the professional life of Ginsburg in three movements over 18 minutes. Inspired by quotes from Ginsburg, Dallas-born poet and author Lauren Watel crafted a text based on the metaphor of a house.
Ginsburg is first portrayed as a “strong and pointed” girl, moving into rooms where women “worked in the nooks and crannies”. Later, Watel writes, Ginsburg knocked down the “locked doors” and “false walls” to make more space for women and men.
Viewing Ginsburg’s journey as a “passionate journey,” Zwilich created a dramatic setting in three acts, with the mezzo soprano as the main character and the orchestra as an equal partner, she said.
“It was quite a moving experience for me,” Zwilich said of the composition process. “I felt like I was going through the stages of his life with her.”
Also on the program, Biegel’s Reflection of Justice: An Ode to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which he composed shortly after Ginsburg’s death. The four-minute fantasy, for piano and orchestra, is generally peaceful, said Biegel, whose stepdad went to high school with Ginsburg in Brooklyn.
“She was small in stature, but very tall as a person,” he said. “So in music there is calm, but also strength and nobility.”
To round out the offerings, Lidiya Yankovskaya – a former student of the Dallas Opera’s first Hart Institute for Women Conductors – will conduct selections from Bizet Carmen and Mozart overtures Figaro wedding and Wagner The Flying Dutchman.
7:30 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. $ 26 to $ 100. The video stream will be available on October 19. Single concert $ 10; season pass $ 125. 214-849-4376, dallassymphony.org.