Robinson McClellan ~ composer


BQE: An Urban Cantata (2013)

Lyrics by Daniel Neer

Commissioned for the
Queens New Music Festival by
Two Sides Sounding
Eleanor Taylor, Artistic Director
Visuals by Ted Gorodetzky

Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Brooklyn Heights; Promenade visible at top left.


Premiere May 18, 2013 at the Secret Theatre

Soprano: Eleanor Taylor
Baritone: Daniel Neer
Piano four-hands: Mila Henry & Lucas Wong

Duration 28:00


TEXT by Daniel Neer

CHORALE – Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs

Our Gotham home, this melting pot
A patchwork quilt of class and creed
Eight million hopes and dreams cry forth
Outgrown in Pre-War hand-me-downs
Where vision and development
Meet politics and populace
And progress is an urban war
Of clashing ideology


Recitative – Robert Moses 

“Those who can, build. Those who can't, criticize.”


Aria – Moses: I am the master builder

I am the master builder
Taking these boroughs
By the scruff of the neck
And dragging them into

I am a bold visionary
Bringing us closer
Connecting our people
Changing the way we
Move, work and play

I am a fearless dreamer
Never backing down
Rewarding my friends
Punishing my enemies
Standing my ground

I am the architect
Who reshapes the maps
Tear down and rebuild
Making changes for
The greater good


Recitative – Jane Jacobs  

“Dull, inert cities, it is true, do contain the seeds of their own destruction and little else. But lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.” 


Duet – Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs: Builder’s Dossier



Thirteen bridges,
Two tunnels,
Six-Hundred-Thirty-Seven miles of highway,
Six-Hundred-Fifty-Eight playgrounds,
Ten giant swimming pools,
Thirty-four new playgrounds,
Seventeen state parks,
Lincoln Center,
United Nations,
Shea Stadium,
Jones Beach,
Central Park Zoo,
Tri-Borough Bridge,
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge,
Long Island Expressway,
Cross Bronx Expressway,
Thirty-Eight thousand gallons of fresh paint,
Seventy miles of new walkways



The delicate threads that bind us as an urban community are stronger than any concrete piling or steel girder


Recitative – Robert Moses

“I raise my stein to the builder who can remove ghettos without removing people as I hail the chef who can make omelets without breaking eggs.”

Aria – Jane Jacobs: Eyes on my Street

The eyes on my street
See a world complete
Mannered and harmonious
Of neighbors who move
In an urban ballet
Magnificent and chaotic

A tapestry,
Cacophonous and graceful,
Of grocery carts, hula hoops
Noisy kids and fireplugs
Of candy stores, barking dogs
And gossip on the stoop

A symphony of urban life,
Complete unto itself;
that never wonders
What should be -
only of what is


CHORALE – Moses and Jacobs

A picnic on a stretch of grass...
Crack of the bat in the ballpark...
Kids jumping in a swimming pool...
A zoo and a new opera house...
More housing and social service...
Repairs to the infrastructure...
A highway from Brooklyn to Queens...
What legacy is left behind
Once the dust of progress settles?


Recitative – Jane Jacobs

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”


Aria – Robert Moses: Swimming at Night

I run into the surf;
Swim out to sea.
Disappear from the shore,
Vulnerable and alone
I stop and stare to the East,
Floating quietly in the swell:
A quickly darkening sea
The infinite dazzling blue
With steely nerve I turn
To face the leviathan:
The blinking eyes on the horizon,
A metropolis wild and lost…
Politicians, unions,
Housewives and rabble-rousers
I swim towards the monster:
Determined to win


Duet – Moses and Jacobs: BQE


The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway:
A connection of highways
Stitched together
Linking neighborhoods
Uniting people
All grateful
Joining our city
Unifying us



One Hundred Sixty Thousand vehicles a day through Brooklyn,

One Hundred Twenty Thousand through Queens


The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway:
A confusion of highways
Stitched together
Crushing neighborhoods
Displacing people
All horrified
Squeezing our city
Suffocating us



Interstate 278
Brooklyn-Queens Connecting Highway
Kosciusko Bridge
Triborough Bridge
Penny Bridge
Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel
Queens-Midtown Tunnel
Grand Central Parkway
Manhattan Bridge Connection
Williamsburg Bridge Connection
North 9th Street Connection
38th Street Queens Midtown
Queens Boulevard
Horace Harding Boulevard
Midtown Highway
Meeker Avenue

Gowanus Parkway
LaGuardia Airport
Belt Parkway

The Worlds Fair


Recitative – Robert Moses

“You can draw any kind of picture you like on a clean slate and indulge your every whim…but when you operate in an overbuilt metropolis, you have to hack your way with a meat ax.”


Aria – Jane Jacobs: He Drew a Line on a Map

He drew a line on a map,
And built a highway over it.
Never budging an inch:
Plowing neighborhoods,
Crushing homes
In the name of slum clearance.

He dreamt of crossing the city:
An endless highway network
Like laces on a boot -
Which pull and tighten,
Segment and divide,
Carving our city to pieces.

He stood in a penthouse window,
With sleeves rolled up and arms crossed,
And watched an army of men far below
Finish the BQE.
Alone in his castle tower:
Such a happy king


CHORALE – Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs

Our Gotham home, this melting pot
A patchwork quilt of class and creed
Eight million hopes and dreams cry forth
Outgrown in Pre-War hand-me-downs
Where vision and development
Meet politics and populace.
And progress is an urban war
Of clashing ideology

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