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Shifting Cultural Dynamics with Music

New Music USA creates program to foster collaborations of racial and gender equity in orchestral music

Music inspires us to think higher, reach further, and dream bigger, leading us to incredible advancements that change the face of mankind. ”

–Brian Raphael Nabors, composer; UC News

Music is a liberating, unifying force that can touch people on a visceral level and introduce new perspectives. It is truly a universal language.

As the classical music industry works to shift its cultural paradigm and become more inclusive, from the concert hall to the boardroom, New Music USA has launched the Amplifying Voices Program with a goal to diversify classical repertoire and foster collaborations of racial and gender equity in orchestral music.

The initiative is supported by the Sphinx Venture Fund and is making strides toward change by co-commissioning orchestras–the DSO among its collaborators– to increase the support and promotion of underrepresented composers and create space for their contributions to artistic-planning at major national orchestras and transform the classical canon for future generations.

“It’s not an easy path for anyone studying classical music, but it’s particularly not an easy path for any children [or people] of color, where they may not be precedent. The full goal is to really have our music, concert halls, stages, and corner offices be representative of the population,” says Afa Dworkin, Sphinx Organization President, and Artistic Director. If we see top five orchestras and they say, let's get together and for three years we're doing it, the rest of the field is going to follow.”

The DSO has long been committed to creating a community that identifies, understands, and invites a multitude of voices to contribute to its artistic output.

This season, the DSO is presenting 18 works by women and people of color, including works by Pulitzer Prize-winner Tania León and Brian Raphael Nabors as part of New Music USA’s Amplifying Voices commissioning project.

Tania León’s Indigenaa chamber orchestra work that evokes the Carnival festival–was part of the DSO’s 2020 digital season. Her new work, Pasajes, makes its DSO premiere on December 9-11, under the direction of guest conductor Jonathon Heyward–newly appointed Music Director Designate of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.  

With Pasajes ("Passages"), the intuitive composer paints scenes of her Cuban ancestry with Latin American rhythms and pulsating sounds that capture Caribbean dance culture. Conscious not to give too much away–to give space for the audience to listen and experience the music in their own way–León describes the 12-minute piece as a delivery of poetry in sound.

“Each passage in the piece is a fresh idea. It’s like going to a museum and looking at a canvas that you have seen before,” she says. “This is a new way of painting; like Picasso or Monet, but with a new palette.”

The classical program also includes Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony and Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 25 featuring Yeol Eum Son as soloist.

Brian Raphael Nabors, Assistant Professor of Composition at Louisiana State University, was a 2019 composer fellow in the American Composer’s Orchestra EarShot program with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. His piece, Rise, was selected for the DSO EarShot Readings and was rehearsed and performed under the direction of conductor André Raphel.  

In April, his latest work, Upon Daybreak, will be heard in Orchestra Hall under the baton of JoAnn Falletta. Inspired by the late Dr. Maya Angelou’s 1995 poem, A Brave and Startling Truth, where lines speak to arriving at a day of “peacemaking” and becoming one human family, the composition plays as an “everlasting serenade” and “ode of triumph” to a world absent of hatred and malice. The action-calling line: ‘When we come to it’ aligns with Nabors’ foundational theme of freedom and moving forward.

Upon Daybreak is the third installment of Nabors’ symphonic triptych, composed to explore ideas that accentuate the human experience. Preceding the piece was Pulse (2019), an “episodic rhapsody” that centered on the natural rhythms that unify the universe; and Onward (2019), a musical journey that depicts moments of discovery, innovation, and change that pushes us and our world into the future.  

Each work expresses a response to the question: “If true freedom, with no malice but acceptance on all fronts, had a sound, what would it be?” Nabors envisions a “picturesque utopia with sound that engulfs the listener with abundant joy.”   

He adds, “I’ve always looked at my own work as a tool or vessel to merge many different worlds together so that we can rid ourselves of differences that aren’t even there and start conversations to redefine what it means to be human and to be more united.”  

In addition to the DSO premiere of Upon Daybreak, Chevalier de Saint-Georges Violin Concerto No.2, Kodály's Dances of Galánta, and Stravinsky's Concerto for Violin & Orchestra are also featured on the April program. 

The volume of discussion around creating equitable opportunities for people of color and women in classical music is heightened. With works being produced that address the ills and joys of society, as well as crafting unique melodies to merge different worlds and narratives, we can see the impact voices from varying backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences bring to the worldwide stage.  

“Representation must become the norm, not an occasion of note,” Dworkin emphasizes. “It gives people, especially young people, a sense of determination, purpose, and belonging. The minute they operate in an environment where everyone else resembles their background, and where role models are all people who represent their background, I think belonging builds itself. And it’s exciting to see.”  

Using music as a catalyst for bringing people together and exploring perspectives is a shared value among the DSO, Sphinx Organization, and New Music USA’s Amplifying Voices program. It is a commitment to the value of progress and keeping music vibrant and alive.

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When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it. ”

–Dr. Maya Angelou, 'Brave and Startling Truth' excerpt

December 9-11

Jonathan Heyward conducts Dvořák & Mendelssohn

Hear Tania León's "Pasajes" (DSO Co-Commission)

Buy Tickets

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