“With Trembling Fingers” Colorado Musicians Recall 9/11 Performance Twenty Years Later

Daniel Mescher/CPR Classical
Yo-Yo Ma on the stage at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Aug. 1, 2018.

Where were you on 9/11/2001? Many of us have vivid memories of where we were when we watched the tragedy unfold. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma was in Denver on 9/11, getting ready for a concert later in the week with the Colorado Symphony. Below, members of Colorado's musical community share their memories of the role music played in helping us process and grieve after 9/11.

Yumi Hwang-Williams

Courtesy of Colorado Symphony
Yumi Hwang-Williams has been Concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony since 2000 and will celebrate her 22nd season in 2021/22.

"I remember September 11th vividly. It was one of those most beautiful late summer/early fall days with gorgeous clear blue skies, not a cloud to be seen. After the devastating news had come in, my husband and I took a drive through to the mountains later in the day. It felt like a ghost town, hardly anyone else on the roads and one knew that the world as we knew it had changed irrevocably.

"The Colorado Symphony with Marin Alsop responded with an incredibly moving concert with Yo-Yo Ma changing his scheduled Concerto from the effervescent Haydn to the heart wrenchingly beautiful Elgar. It was yet another affirmation of the power of music to bring together people to help grieve, support, and ultimately heal. Right after the concert, a driver was waiting for Yo-Yo to drive him all night long to Phoenix for his next concert since all the flights were grounded." -- Yumi Hwang-Williams

Peter Cooper

Courtesy of Colorado Symphony
Peter Cooper, principal oboist of the Colorado Symphony since 1993 and Teaching Professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

"I had the privilege of playing with Yo-Yo Ma a number of times in Denver and with my previous orchestras in Hong Kong and San Francisco. Each time was an incredibly profound experience. He was scheduled to play a Haydn Concerto and the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations that week in September, 2001. Both pieces are full of elegance and charm and light.

"After 9/11 we changed the program to the Elgar Cello Concerto (which he could play by memory with no notice). It was infinitely more appropriate than the original pieces. The Elgar, written after the tragedy of World War I, is full of mourning and loss and the feeling of emerging from unspeakable horrors. It was perfect for that occasion. I thought at the time how lucky we were in the CSO and for our audience that we could all share this cathartic experience together with one of the world’s greatest musicians. Obviously we remained shocked and devastated for a long time after 9/11 but for that evening, we had a little bit of community solace which was desperately needed and welcome." -- Peter Cooper

Claude Sim

Courtesy of Colorado Symphony
Claude Sim, Associate Concertmaster, has been with the Colorado Symphony since 1999 and frequently performs as featured soloist with the orchestra.

"Like so many Americans, I remember where I was when the horrific event unfolded in real time. While having breakfast in my apartment on Capitol Hill, my mother called me to turn on the news. It was confusing and mind numbing, but the weeks that followed were traumatic for the collective psyche of the country. I found myself struggling to understand the evil that humans could be capable of. Just a week prior, my future wife was in the WTC North Tower.

"At the CSO, the artistic staff considered presenting a piece that carried more emotional weight than the light spirited Haydn. I'll never forget the Elgar performance. Overcome with emotions at the concert, we had trembling fingers and bows while playing some passages. Yo-Yo's energy was heartfelt and came straight from the soul. Absolutely incredible. It felt right to express ourselves after such an unspeakable tragedy. For so many of us, music is the ultimate expression of being alive. The great masterworks that we are privileged to perform are enduring statements from humanity. One can reflect on the so-called "golden record", a document of human achievement (including J.S. Bach) onboard the Voyager craft currently hurtling through deep space. This is a humbling reminder that human expression is a miracle that endures through the ages. There is comfort and peace in knowing this." -- Claude Sim

William Hill

Courtesy of Colorado Symphony
William Hill, Principal Timpanist with the Colorado Symphony, Music Director of the Evergreen Chamber Orchestra, and teaches composition at the Lamont School of Music.

"My strongest memory is several weeks later performing the Britten War Requiem. The hall was packed and the performances were a powerful and devastating statement against war and violence. For me the most poignant line from Wilfred Owen’s poetry is 'I am the enemy you killed, my friend.'” -- William (Bill) Hill

Charley Samson

Former CPR Classical Host, Charley Samson.

"I took my son to the Yo-Ya Ma concert. He was dating a cellist at the time and I remember demanding that he shake Yo-Yo's hand, saying he would one day have a story for his grandchildren. As you know, there was no air traffic at the time, so a limo was waiting and Yo-Yo's handlers were anxious to get going, but he insisted on signing all the autographs backstage before departing." -- Charley Samson

On Saturday, September 11, CPR Classical shares pieces throughout the day that bring solace and comfort--musical pause for reflection. We include Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Barber’s "Adagio for Strings" as part of an on-air commemoration. John Adams’ “Transmigration of Souls” plays at 7pm MST, a solemn, powerful statement the composer describes as a “memory space” and a “transition from one state of being to another…of those who suffer pain and loss and then themselves come away from that experience.”

“Transmigration of Souls” was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and Lincoln Center’s Great Performers shortly after the 9/11 attack in 2001. The work received a world premiere one year later by the NY Phil with conductor Lorin Maazel and subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize for Music and several GRAMMY awards.

For their contributions, CPR Classical would like to thank Nick Dobreff, Director of Publicity and Community Relations at Colorado Symphony, also, Yumi Hwang-Williams, Peter Cooper, Claude Sim, William Hill, and former CPR Classical host Charley Samson.

Listen on Saturday, September 11 for music that offers solace, comfort, and reflection.

Hear CPR Classical by clicking “Listen Live” at the top on this website. You can also hear CPR Classical at 88.1 FM in Denver, at radio signals around Colorado, or ask your smart speaker to “Play CPR Classical."