On May 26th and 27th, Florida's Space Coast Symphony Orchestra ended its ninth season with “Suliman Plays Tchaikovsky,” an epic program featuring works from Fuchs, Tchaikovsky, and Shostakovich. Composer Kenneth Fuchs' "Atlantic Riband," which originally debuted at a 2012 concert in Newport News, VA, was inspired by the great ocean liners of the Twentieth Century — including the SS United States.
After speaking before the performance about the history of the ship, its significance, and the work of the Conservancy, Fuchs was honored to also share that several audience members in attendance were former Big U passengers.
"At each concert, music director Aaron Collins and I had the privilege of greeting and speaking with several audience members who crossed the Atlantic on the Big U. We were touched that so many people with direct experience traveling on the ship made a special effort to attend the performances. Their stories of crossing the Atlantic on the SS United States were deeply moving.”
Former SS United States passenger Renate Ludewig, with son-in-law Joe Bradley (left) and composer Kenneth Fuchs, at Space Coast Symphony Orchestra performance. Courtesy of Monika Bradley.
One concert attendee, Renate Ludewig, traveled aboard the SS United States from Germany to New York in November, 1955, ten years after she was forced to flee East Germany as a young girl. In New York, Renate was reunited with her fiancé, and the couple married a month later.
Following the concert, Renate's daughter Monika Bradley enthused:
"The SS United States has always held a dear place in our hearts...Attending a musical tribute to the ocean liner that broke all speed records for crossing the Atlantic: awesome. Having your mother called out to stand and be recognized by the symphony conductor because she came to America onboard that same ocean liner in 1955: priceless!"
It is always so special to see the ways that America's Flagship continues to touch the lives of former passengers and crew members. The Conservancy was thrilled to also receive several photographs from Renate and Monika, bringing to life Renate's transatlantic journey.
SS United States passenger Renate Ludewig as a young woman, and the steamer trunk used on her transatlantic crossing aboard the SS United States. Photographs courtesy of Monika Bradley.
Describing the "Atlantic Riband" piece inspired by stories like Renate's, composer Kenneth Fuchs writes:
"As a boy growing up in the 1960s, I made many visits to the piers of New York Harbor. Standing on the edge of the sea wall and gazing up at the massive prow of a liner preparing to set sail across the Atlantic was an unforgettable experience. I had a special fondness for the SS United States, a marvel of American engineering and technology, which captured the Blue Riband (for the fastest transatlantic crossing) on its maiden voyage, July 3-7, 1952. The ship crossed the North Atlantic from New York in three days, ten hours, and forty minutes, breaking all previous records. It also broke the westbound record on its return from Southampton, making it the fastest ship afloat. To this day, no vessel has surpassed that achievement.
Although a purely abstract musical composition, Atlantic Riband pays tribute to the power and grace of our national ship of state and to an important era in United States history. In the form of an orchestral showpiece, the work expresses the energy and optimism — as well as the foreboding, mystery, and danger — of the ocean-going enterprise. The shipping lanes of the North Atlantic were not only crucial to commerce and industry, but held promise for millions of immigrants. It is their hopeful struggle and ultimate victory of crossing the Atlantic in search of a new life that I wish to express in music."
We are so moved by Fuchs' powerful connection to America's Flagship, and by his startling ability to convert the emotions invoked by our nations greatest ocean liner into music. Want to hear the piece for yourself? Click HERE to watch a 2014 performance of "Atlantic Riband" by Tennessee's Sewanee Symphony Orchestra.
The stories of the passengers and crew members who traveled aboard the SS United States are vital to the ship's incredible history. Do you have your own SS United States memories to share? CLICK HERE to learn how, or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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