My Second Symphony was written in 1991, begun just after the Persian Gulf War took place. The absurdity and cruelty of this war, in particular the "surgical" nature of its reliance on gleaming new technological warfare used at a safe distance made an enormous and lasting impression on me. It awoke me to the brutality and hollow moralizing of which nations are all too easily capable and led me to examine the culture of war and genocide in our time. The Gulf War was the first war in which, as an adult, I "witnessed" (through the media) my country's participation. In addition, the Symphony was fueled by a time of great personal change, and signifies both a loss of innocence and an important shift of tone in my music. However, this Symphony is not programmatic: it describes no progression of images or engagements, though its movement titles are direct. The development of the work's musical motives is compact and abstract, yet highly linear.
One image from the war that did influence the last movement came from news reports of a civilian apartment building (mistakenly thought to be a military installation) that was flattened by American bombs just before the end of the war - its 500 civilian inhabitants were killed instantly. The Second Symphony began a series of works touched by world conflict and human suffering which include my NEW ERA DANCE for orchestra, my cor anglais concerto COLORED FIELD (1993 - also recently transcribed as a cello concerto), piano quartet STILL MOVEMENT WITH HYMN (1994) and concerto for violin and strings LAMENT AND PRAYER (1995). (All of these works have been recorded on Decca/Argo, but I believe they are out of print in the UK). The Symphony was commissioned by Carillon Importers, Ltd. on behalf of Absolut Vodka for one of the series of concerts they presented at Lincoln Center in New York City during the early 90's. (Coincidentally the war began on my birthday in 1991 (15/1) and the Symphony was premiered on that same date a year later following the war's end). It was premiered by Hugh Wolff and the New Jersey Symphony in 1992 and was later recorded by Wolff and the City of Birmingham Symphony for Decca/Argo.
— Aaron Jay Kernis