DSO honors composer Robert A. Harris and philanthropist William F. Pickard at 41st Annual Classical Roots Celebration, March 8-9

- Classical Roots honors African-American contributions to classical music; this year’s program to highlight works by Robert A. Harris and the late George Walker, the first African-American composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music

- Concerts will be conducted by André Raphel with soprano Jacqueline Echols and the Classical Roots Celebration Choir featuring the Brazeal Dennard Chorale

- Additional community events planned, including chamber recitals and classroom visits by DSO African-American Orchestra Fellows; DSO will also participate in EarShot, a composer residency aimed at boosting the careers of emerging composers of color

Detroit, (February 20, 2018) – The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) will honor renowned composer, conductor, and music educator Dr. Robert A. Harris and philanthropist Dr. William F. Pickard at the 41st annual Classical Roots Celebration. Classical Roots honors African-American composers, musicians, and educators for lifetime achievement and raises funds to support the DSO’s African-American music and musician development programs.

Two Classical Roots performances in Orchestra Hall (on Friday, March 8 at 10:45 a.m. and Saturday, March 9 at 8 p.m.) will be conducted by André Raphel and feature soprano Jacqueline Echols and the Classical Roots Celebration Choir, comprising members of the Brazeal Dennard Chorale (Alice McAllister Tillman, Artistic Director), Wayne State University Symphonic Chorus, and Detroit Choral Society. The Classical Roots Celebration Choir is brought together by chorus master Alex Sutton and artistic advisor Norah Duncan IV.

Works on the program are written exclusively by African-American composers:

  • John Rosamond Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as the Black National Anthem, performed by the Brazeal Dennard Chorale to kick off the concert, a Classical Roots tradition since the first concert in 1978.
  • Adolphus Hailstork’s “O Praise The Lord” and Ysaÿe Barnwell’s “Wanting Memories,” both performed by the Brazeal Dennard Chorale, and both works by living composers that continue the tradition of the Black spiritual. 
  • Honoree Robert A. Harris’s Gloria with Jacqueline Echols and the combined Classical Roots Celebration Choir.
  • Lyric for Strings by George Walker, the first African-American composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music, who passed away in August 2018 the age of 96.
  • William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1, “Afro-American” from 1930, one of the most-performed symphonies by an African-American composer and a work the DSO has presented more than 50 times in its history.

Watch Live around the worldthe Saturday evening concert will be webcast for free at dso.org/live and via Facebook Live, as part of the DSO’s groundbreaking Live from Orchestra Hall series. Michigan Comcast Xfinity customers can also view a broadcast of the Saturday evening concert by tuning to Xfinity Channel 900. Live from Orchestra Hall is presented by Ford Motor Company Fund and made possible by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The black-tie Classical Roots Celebration—held every year since 2001 in conjunction with the concerts—will take place on Saturday, March 9. The Detroit community will come together for a pre-concert dinner in the Peter D. and Julie F. Cummings Cube (The Cube) and a post-concert dessert and dancing afterglow. The Celebration raises funds to support the Classical Roots mission and is organized by a dedicated steering committee, co-chaired this year by H. Keith Mobley and Laydell Harper Wyatt. Visit dso.org/classicalroots for more information on the Celebration.    

In the weeks preceding Classical Roots, related events will be presented in the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center and throughout the Detroit community. These include:

  • Two events in The Cube on the DSO’s American Panorama winter music festival: a Friday, February 22 concert headlined by Mumu Fresh and a Tuesday, February 26 tribute to George Walker featuring a performance by his son Gregory Walker. Learn more about both events at dso.org/festival.
  • A fundraiser and social event sponsored by the Classical Roots Young Friends Committee at The Peacock Room in Detroit’s Fisher Building on Sunday, February 24 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Two chamber recitals at community venues: one on Sunday, February 24 during morning services at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church, and a second on Monday, March 4 at 7 p.m. at Plymouth United Church of Christ in Detroit. The March 4 recital, which is free and open to the public, will feature music by Classical Roots Composer-In-Residence Jonathan Bailey Holland (see below).
  • DSO African-American Orchestra Fellows Adam Sadberry, flute, and Michael Gause, trumpet, will visit Detroit classrooms to speak about their experiences and perform for students. Thanks to a gift from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced at the previous Classical Roots Celebration in March 2018, the DSO was able to increase the number of African-American Orchestra Fellows from one to two this season.

The DSO will also demonstrate its commitment to new music through the African-American Composer Residency, which selects a living African-American composer to visit Detroit, speak to students and community members, and attend a DSO performance of one of his/her works. This year’s composer-in-residence is Jonathan Bailey Holland, whose piece Forged Sanctuaries: String Quartet No. 2 will be performed at the Monday, March 4 chamber recital at Plymouth United Church of Christ. Holland will also visit Detroit classrooms in the week prior to the Classical Roots concerts and participate in EarShot (see below).

This year, the DSO will collaborate to host EarShot, a residency initiative of American Composers Orchestra in partnership with American Composers Forum, League of American Orchestras, and New Music USA that identifies and promotes promising orchestral composers. Over seven days, EarShot Participating Composers will work with teaching artists (including Jonathan Bailey Holland), participate in career development workshops, hear their pieces performed onstage at two orchestra readings, and more. For more information about EarShot, please contact DSO Public Relations Manager Ben Breuninger.

About Classical Roots

The mission of the Classical Roots Celebration is to increase awareness of the contributions of African-American composers and musicians through performance and recordings, and to support increased opportunities for African-Americans in classical music through the DSO’s African-American Composer Residency and African-American Orchestra Fellowship.

The DSO has for years been at the forefront of the movement to celebrate the contributions of African-American composers, nurture the talents of young African-American classical musicians, and increase access and opportunity for younger African-Americans who might never otherwise experience the magic of classical music.

Classical Roots began as a concert at Detroit’s historic Bethel A.M.E. Church in 1978, featuring the DSO and the Brazeal Dennard Chorale. Immediately popular, the event outgrew the church and has taken place annually at Orchestra Hall since 1981. In 2001, Classical Roots expanded to include a black-tie gala and fundraiser, with luminary African-American musicians, leaders, educators, businesspeople, and philanthropists honored each year.

About This Year’s Honorees

Dr. Robert A. Harris is a composer, conductor, and music educator born and raised in Detroit. Harris attended Wayne State University, the Eastman School of Music, Michigan State University, and the Aspen Music School. He has served as a professor and choral director at many top colleges, most notably Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, where he worked for 35 years and is now professor emeritus. Harris’s more than 40 commissions, especially those in the choral genre, have been performed throughout the United States, Europe, and South Africa.

Dr. William F. Pickard is founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Global Automotive Alliance, and a well-known philanthropist and business development expert who previously served on the DSO Board of Directors (joining in 1991) and currently serves on the Board of Trustees. Raised in Flint, MI, Pickard attended Western Michigan University, the University of Michigan, and Ohio State University. He also owns several restaurant franchises, co-owns five newspapers, serves on the board of the National Urban League, and published the entrepreneurship book Millionaire Moves. In 2011, at the passing of Classical Roots co-founder Dr. Arthur L. Johnson, Pickard helped establish the Arthur L. Johnson African-American Artist Fund with a $500,000 endowment gift.

About the Artists

André Raphel led the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra for 15 years and currently serves there as Conductor Laureate. He has served as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and has appeared as a guest conductor with many top orchestras in the United States and Europe. He is a proud advocate of new music and has conducted the world premieres of works by Richard Danielpour, Jennifer Higdon, Kenneth Fuchs, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Uri Caine, and Hannibal Lokumbe. Raphel previously conducted the DSO’s Classical Roots Celebration in 2012.

Jacqueline Echols is lyric soprano who has earned great acclaim on both the opera and concert stages. Career highlights include the title role in La Traviata (with Washington National Opera and Palm Beach Opera), Gilda in Rigoletto (with North Carolina Opera), Pamina in Die Zauberflöte (with the Glimmerglass Festival), Helen in the world premiere of The Summer King (with Pittsburgh Opera), and Handel’s Messiah with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.

Ticket Information

Tickets start at $15 for the two Classical Roots concerts in Orchestra Hall and can be purchased at dso.org, by calling (313) 576-5111, or in person at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center (3711 Woodward Avenue, Detroit).

For group ticket information (groups of 10 or more), please contact Group Sales Manager Jim Sabatella at (313) 576-5130 or jsabatella@dso.org.

Please visit dso.org for ticketing information about other Classical Roots events throughout the community; ticket prices vary, and some events are free of charge.

To purchase gala tickets for the black-tie Classical Roots Celebration, please call Jenni Clark at (313) 576-5449. Learn more about Celebration packages at dso.org/classicalroots.

About the DSO

The most accessible orchestra on the planet, the acclaimed Detroit Symphony Orchestra is known for trailblazing performances, collaborations with the world’s foremost musical artists, and a deep connection to its city. As a community-supported orchestra, generous giving by individuals and institutions at all levels drives the continued success and growth of the institution. Conductor Leonard Slatkin, who recently concluded an acclaimed decade-long tenure at the helm, now serves as the DSO’s Music Director Laureate, endowed by the Kresge Foundation. Celebrated conductor, arranger, and trumpeter Jeff Tyzik is the orchestra’s Principal Pops Conductor, while the outstanding trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard holds the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Jazz Creative Director Chair. Making its home at historic Orchestra Hall within the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, the DSO offers a performance schedule that features Classical, PNC Pops, Paradise Jazz, and Young People’s Family Concert series. One of America’s most acoustically perfect concert halls, Orchestra Hall will celebrate its centennial in 2019-2020. In addition, the DSO presents the William Davidson Neighborhood Concert Series in seven metro area venues, as well as a robust schedule of eclectic multi-genre performances in its mid-size venue The Cube, constructed and curated with support from Peter D. & Julie F. Cummings. A dedication to broadcast innovation began in 1922, when the DSO became the first orchestra in the world to present a radio broadcast and continues today with the free Live from Orchestra Hall webcast series, which also reaches tens of thousands of children with the Classroom Edition expansion. With growing attendance and unwavering philanthropic support from the people of Detroit, the DSO actively pursues a mission to embrace and inspire individuals, families, and communities through unsurpassed musical experiences.