Concert Marks 100th Anniversary of Triangle Factory Fire

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday was the 100th anniversary of the worst workplace disaster in New York until 9/11 -- the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company near Washington Square where 146 women, mostly young immigrant women and teenage girls, died by being burned alive or jumping to their death.

The anniversary of the Triangle Fire is being commemorated by a remarkable array of events, including a free commemorative concert at the Society for Ethical Culture on Monday at 7:30 pm. The performers include members of the Silk Road Ensemble, the string quartet Brooklyn Rider and an Afrobeat group called Jarana Beat.

While the year 1911 was a particularly rich one for classical music, with the premieres of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier and Stravinsky’s Petrushka, this concert takes a more forward-looking view. Its organizer is Zachary Cohen, a Bronx-raised, Juilliard-trained double bassist who now lives in Wisconsin, where he performs in the Milwaukee Symphony. "Music is a way to remind people in a very visceral sense of what they’re fighting for," said Cohen, 27, referring to the parallels to present-day labor protests.

The program will include What about the 9th floor?, a newly-commissioned piece for percussion, double bass and cello by Silk Road Ensemble cellist Mike Block (the fire took place on the ninth floor of the building, which still stands). Also on the bill is Robert Cuckson’s Carmina Populi (“Song for the People”), a piece for solo bass in which each movement is based on a revolutionary song, from a French Revolution anthem to a song about an uprising in a Jewish Ghetto. "It’s very much about the underdog and people uprising," said Cohen.

Music by J.S. Bach will round out the event, as will a slideshow of images from the triangle fire juxtaposed with photos from modern labor protests. "Milwaukee is ground zero for what’s going on in the recent protests for worker’s rights,” Cohen said of his time away from New York. “I was just in Madison last weekend where there was a huge turnout. I thought it was really connected with the triangle fire. It’s amazing how people have fought really hard for the most basic things.”

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