July 11th: Deep River

Since it’s launch in 2015, New York City–based ensemble The Dream Unfinished, a self-described “activist orchestra,” has merged richly narrative symphonic and chamber programming with a commitment to composer diversity and a thoughtful, thought-provoking alliance with expert speakers, community organizers, and the city’s community of justice-minded musicians. Read my 2015 interview with the orchestra’s founder here.

The orchestra’s mission? “To use classical music to engage audiences in dialogues surrounding social justice.” Past events have positioned works by Tania Leon and Vijay Iyer alongside a conversation about immigrant rights; a side-by-side orchestra of professional and student musicians responding to the school-to-prison pipeline; and a coalition of musicians and activists honoring the Black Lives Matter movement and the memories of Eric Garner and Sandra Bland.

On July 11th, The Dream Unfinished will take on yet another urgent conversation: climate justice – the framework that understands climate change not only as an environmental issue, but also as a social, political, economic, and ethical one. Titled “Deep River,” the concert will explore the realities of climate change, its effects on marginalized and frontline communities, and the power of grassroots activism through a smartly curated program of musical repertoire and guest appearances.

Works by Laura Kaminsky, Roberto Sierra, Harry Burleigh, Trevor Weston, Jeff Scott, and Zenobia Powell Perry will underscore the perspectives of speakers and activists including Commissioner Mitchell Silver of the NYC Parks Department, Leslie Velasquez of El Puente, Olivia Wohlgemuth of Earth Uprising, and Karla Pinzon of The Climate Reality Project. The orchestra will be joined by baritone Damian Norfleet, concertmaster Kelly Hall-Tompkins, and conductor Vimbayi Kaziboni, with WQXR’s Terrance McKnight serving as the evening’s host.

The event takes place on Thursday, July 11th at 7:30 p.m. at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased online.


Classical Music Round-Up: October 12, 2018

Opera Updates

Innovation & Impact


Equal Temperament

Now Playing

Shostakovich Wants YOU To Vote

“Rehearsal did not take place. Srabian is dead. Petrov is sick. Borishev is dead. Orchestra not working.”

Thus read the log records for the Leningrad Radio Orchestra in 1941, as German forces held the starving city under siege. The following summer, when rehearsals began on Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, only fifteen musicians showed up. An oboist took her instrument to be repaired; the repairman requested payment not of money, but of a cat to eat.

The remarkable story behind the premiere of the Leningrad Symphony is chronicled in Jason Caffrey’s BBC article, “Shostakovich’s symphony played by a starving orchestra.” Caffrey concludes by quoting Soviet-born conductor Semyon Bychkov:

In the end [the Seventh Symphony] was composed for humanity. And the best proof is that today we still need it, we are still listening to it.

Here in the U.S., our relationship with Shostakovich is often one of reverence. Our program notes position him in brave defiance against Soviet censorship. Writing about the composer’s Symphony No. 10 for the San Francisco Symphony, James M. Keller observes that the 1945 Ninth Symphony was denounced for insufficiently capturing the glory of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany; and that, in 1948, Shostakovich was accused of “formalist perversions and antidemocratic tendencies in music, alien to the Soviet people and its artistic tastes.”

My music history classes and multiloquent maestros all told the same story: Shostakovich was anti-Stalin, anti-censorship, anti-regime. His music was criticized and persecuted. He lived in fear and paranoia; following State-sanctioned criticism of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, he carried around a small, packed suitcase, expecting to be deported to Siberia at any moment. Continue reading “Shostakovich Wants YOU To Vote”

Classical Music Round-Up: September 28, 2018

Believe Women

CW: sexual harassment

In Review

Industry Insight

Voices from History

Girl Power

Sounds Like Social Justice

Just for Fun

Classical Music Round-Up: September 14, 2018

Demanding Change

Leaders & Innovators

Classroom & Community

Sounds of Society

Food for Thought

Worth a Listen

Music from Sh*thole Countries

Unsurprisingly, the President of the United States has said another racist thing — granted, in white supremacist language slightly less veiled than some of his previous, if equally horrifying, gaffes — and perhaps we can agree that the only sh*thole country in this equation is the U.S. But, to be honest, I might not have decided to write about the “sh*thole countries” comment — this vile and dangerous rhetoric, now so painfully normalized that I actually rolled my eyes when I first saw the headlines — if I hadn’t spent the past two weeks obsessing over Ladilikan, the debut collaborative album from the Kronos Quartet and Trio Da Kali.

It was — as so many great albums are — an unexpected discovery, brought about by an algorithmic rabbit hole: one YouTube video recommended another, and what started out as Salome score study found me, hours later, perusing the never-ending treasure trove of live performances uploaded by Seattle’s public radio station, KEXP.

Trio Da Kali comprises vocalist Hawa Diabaté, lutenist Mamadou Kouyaté on ngoni, and balafonist Lassana Diabaté. The trio are Malian Mandé griot — musicians, storytellers, praise singers and oral historians. During their performance, KEXP host Darek Mazzone asked, “What is the role of the griot?”

“If something isn’t going right, it’s our responsibility to step in for the greater good,” Lassana Diabaté replied.

Mazzone nodded. “We could use that here.”

Classical music is — in case you weren’t aware — overwhelmingly white. Audiences, composers, performers — the whole system promotes and protects white participants.

The counterpoint skeptics are itching to point out: of course classical music is white; it’s from Europe, which is also white.

Besides the obvious fallacy that Europe is or ever was without communities of color, there’s another danger at hand in this misguided belief: in accepting classical music as a white art form, we abandon any possibility of changing that. “Complacency breeds complicity,” journalist Zack Ferriday writes in an article for VAN Magazine. He explains:

Between outright nationalism and the slightly less visible institutional racial bias, classical music has been — wittingly and unwittingly — instrumental in the propagation of racist narratives over its hundreds of years. Even for The Guardian, the “biggest issue of all” surrounding Herbert von Karajan was how he produced his performances; his membership of the Nazi party tucked neatly away between parentheses.

Ferriday describes how the neo-Nazi web forum Stormfront hosts a discussion thread hundreds of pages long, its members celebrating classical music’s whiteness, denouncing atonality as a Jewish invention, and issuing bizarre and hateful declarations like, “listening to the classics FORCES you to be white.”

“The idea that classical music provides some kind of sanctuary for somebody with [Holocaust denier Vincent Reynouard’s] views (and the views shared by the Stormfront membership) should be completely unacceptable,” Ferriday writes, “and, moreover, should be something actively fought against.”

Continue reading “Music from Sh*thole Countries”