Rediscovered Music Of Julia Perry Featured In Four-Day Festival In New York

March 5, 2024

From March 13-16, 2024, Experiential Orchestra (EXO) and Videmus will present the Julia Perry Centenary Celebration and Festival in New York City.

Celebrating Perry’s brilliance and legacy and illustrating the vibrance and importance of her music historically, today, and tomorrow. The four-day celebration takes place at venues across the city including Le Poisson Rouge, Mannes School of Music at The New School College of Performing Arts, the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, and Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. In addition to EXO and Videmus, presenting partners include the Mannes School of Music at The New School College of Performing Arts and National Concerts. WQXR is the official media partner.

The festival also marks the release of American Counterpoints, a new album from Experiential Orchestra and Curtis Stewart, conducted by EXO Music Director James Blachly, which includes the first-ever recording of Perry’s Violin Concerto plus music by Stewart and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. American Counterpoints was released by Bright Shiny Things on March 1, 2024. The album was recently featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and the festival recommended in The New Yorker‘s Spring Preview.

The Julia Perry Centenary Celebration and Festival will include performances of Julia Perry’s chamber, choral, and orchestral music, as well as a series of talks and discussions organized by Dr. Louise Toppin, founder of the African Diaspora Music Project and Artistic Director of Videmus, illustrating the resurgence of scholarly interest in Perry’s work. Festival performers include the Experiential Orchestra led by Music Director James Blachly, bass-baritone Donnie Ray Albert, pianist Samantha Ege, flutist Brandon Patrick George, baritone Will Liverman (released courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera), soprano Laquita Mitchell, PUBLIQuartet, violinist and composer Curtis Stewart, and soprano Louise Toppin. Students from New York City conservatories and music schools will participate in a side-by-side rehearsal and reading of Perry’s music with EXO. A shared performance by Experiential Orchestra and youth ensembles led by EXO Music Director James Blachly and presented by National Concerts on March 16 at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall passes Perry’s musical legacy to the next generation. The concert culminates in four-time-Grammy nominee Curtis Stewart performing Perry’s virtuosic Violin Concerto, with young musicians sitting side-by-side the EXO professionals in the orchestra.

Julia Perry (1924-1979) was an African-American composer, born in Lexington, Kentucky and raised in Akron, Ohio. Her early career was filled with promise: she spent two summers at the Berkshire Music Center, studied with Luigi Dallapiccola and briefly with Nadia Boulanger, won the Prix Fontainebleau and two Guggenheim Fellowships, and her Study for Orchestra was performed by the New York Philharmonic in 1965. But tragically, many of her roughly 100 compositions remain unknown. As J. Michele Edwards writes, “Her career was curtailed because of health problems, especially a paralytic stroke affecting her right side in 1971. Her letters reveal her effort to walk, talk, and conduct again. She did learn to write with her left hand and resumed composing; however, she endured tragic emotional and financial difficulties.”

Louise Toppin says, “Julia Perry’s prominence in music history as an African American woman composer has been erased for too long. Her story as a rising star in the world of composition and conducting during the years of extreme segregation in the United States is both compelling and astonishing. Her compositions (although to date her known output is small) show craftsmanship of the highest caliber that appeal to performers and audiences alike. With this festival, we are presenting for consideration her compositions (several world premieres) and current research on her life and work. There is much continued excavation that needs to take place to present a more complete biography and to locate/uncover her missing compositions.  Our celebration (and others held during 2024 in England, Michigan and Missouri) are but the beginning of unveiling this extraordinary composer – Julia Perry.”

“Since I first encountered Julia Perry’s music in 2014, I have been inspired by her work, life, and career. As I studied her music in depth, it became clear to me what a true master and genius musician she was, and how important it is to have her music performed more broadly,” says James Blachly. “In 2020, Dr. Louise Toppin invited me to serve as the Orchestra Liaison for the African Diaspora Music Project, and for the past three years, she and I have worked with our colleague, conductor Christopher Wilkins, to explore Perry’s many unpublished works. During this time Louise also formed an international working group to advocate for Perry’s music and legacy. The Julia Perry Centenary Celebration and Festival is an outgrowth of this rich collaboration, and brings together in one place many of the foremost scholars and performers working to promote Perry, all timed to celebrate Perry’s centenary. I firmly believe that Perry’s music is an essential part of our American cultural and musical history. All of her music deserves to be heard, and much of it should become a part of our most frequently performed repertoire.”


Read more about Julia Perry in The New York Times and The Marginalian.

The Julia Perry Centenary Celebration and Festival Opening Night on Wednesday, March 13, 2024 at 8pm (doors at 7pm) at Le Poisson Rouge features the multi-GRAMMY-nominated PUBLIQuartet, applauded by The Washington Post as “a perfect encapsulation of today’s trends in chamber music;” soprano Laquita Mitchell, praised in The New York Times for her “smooth-voiced and soothing presence;” and pianist and musicologist Samantha Ege, known for her “vivid, revelatory” performances (iNews). PUBLIQuartet will bring a creative re-imagining to the music of Julia Perry, performing world premieres of rediscovered works by Perry in arrangements by members of the quartet Jannina Norpoth, Hamilton Berry and Curtis Stewart, including Perry’s Prelude for Piano and Miniature for Piano and Stewart’s We Who Seek, which draws on Perry’s choral work Ye, Who Seek the Truth in a new version for quartet, electronics, and spoken word to be performed by Stewart. Soprano Laquita Mitchell will perform two rediscovered songs by Perry, How Beautiful are the Feet and By the Sea. Samantha Ege performs Perry’s Miniature for Piano and Prelude for Piano. The evening also celebrates the release of Experiential Orchestra’s album American Counterpoints, which features contributions from all of the PUBLIQuartet members.

On Thursday, March 14, 2024 from 9:30am-6pm, the festival in partnership with the Mannes School of Music at The New School College of Performing Arts will present a day of Discovery and Discussion around Perry’s works, curated by Louise Toppin. The lecture series features a keynote by Tammy Kernodle (University Distinguished Professor of Music at Miami University and the former President of the Society for American Music) and presentations by Tad Biggs, Sasha Doster, Samantha Ege, Philip Ewell, Angela Hammond, Gayle Murchison, and Garrett Schumann. A second keynote presentation by Christopher Wilkins (Music Director and Conductor for the Akron Symphony and Boston’s Landmarks Orchestra) and Louise Toppin, DMA (Professor of Music, University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor, University of Michigan) will discuss Perry’s time in Akron, Ohio, as well as the challenges surrounding the publication of her works.  The lecture series is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

On Thursday, March 14, 2024 at 7:30pm at Tishman Auditorium at The New School, in partnership with the Mannes School of Music at The New School College of Performing Arts, the festival celebrates the Chamber Music of Julia Perry. The performance features soloists from Experiential Orchestra, along with guest soloists baritone Will Liverman, bass-baritone Donnie Ray Albert, and flutist Brandon Patrick George, in selections from Julia Perry’s chamber music catalog including the presumed world premiere of her Quinary Quixotic Songs, as well as Six Contrasts for baritone, Pastoral for solo flute and ensemble, and Symphony No. 13 for Wind Quintet. Angela Hammond will provide an overview of Perry’s life, and a panel discussion with Afa Dworkin, President and Artistic Director of the Sphinx Organization; Loki Karuna, Interdisciplinary Arts Activist; and composer Anthony M. Kelley will be moderated by Co-Founder, Artistic Director and Violist of Castle of our Skins Ashleigh Gordon. MacDowell Executive Director Chiwoniso Kaitano will discuss Perry’s eight stays at the nation’s preeminent artist residency program between 1954 and 1968.

On Friday March 15, 2024 at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, the festival brings Perry’s legacy to the next generation, through side-by-side rehearsals and readings with Experiential Orchestra led by Music Director James Blachly and students from three New York City conservatories. In addition to rehearsing with violin soloist Curtis Stewart, students will have the opportunity to learn from Stewart and Fredara M. Hadley, Ph.D., Ethnomusicology Professor at The Juilliard School, about their personal relationship with Perry’s music. Jennifer Arnold, Violist and Antiracism Advocate, will lead additional activities. These rehearsals and readings are open only to the participating students and other festival participants.

The Closing Night Concert on Saturday, March 16, 2024 at 8pm presented by National Concerts at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center features Julia Perry’s Violin Concerto performed by Curtis Stewart and the Experiential Orchestra led by Music Director James Blachly, following the March 1 release of their recording of the piece as part of EXO’s American Counterpoints album. Perry’s Violin Concerto was composed in 1963 and revised in 1968, but she continued to update the score until 1977, only two years before her death. Both this performance and the recording include Perry’s extensive revisions to its orchestration, by Roger Zahab. EXO, Stewart, and Blachly gave the professional world premiere performance of this revised version of the concerto in December 2022 in New York. Students from three New York City conservatories will join EXO for the concerto, sitting side-by-side with EXO members. The festival Closing Night Concert also includes soprano Louise Toppin performing the world premiere orchestral arrangement of Julia Perry’s setting of the spiritual I’m a Poor Li’l Orphan in this World and Experiential Orchestra performing Perry’s beautiful Prelude for Strings. The concert closes with the two youth ensembles performing the first half of the concert – Ruckel Middle School Chorus (Niceville, FL) and Sandra Day O’Connor HS Orchestra (San Antonio, TX) – joining EXO on stage to perform Perry’s Ye, Who Seek the Truth, introducing this important composer’s music to the next generation.

Programs subject to change. Visit www.JuliaPerryFestival.com for all festival updates and information.

Julia Perry Centenary Celebration & Festival Schedule:

Opening Night with PUBLIQuartet, Violinist Curtis Stewart, Soprano Laquita Mitchell and Pianist Samantha Ege

Wednesday, March 13, 2024 – Doors at 7pm; Concert at 8pm

Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, New York, NY

Tickets & Information

Discussion and Discovery – A Lecture Series Organized by Dr. Louise Toppin

Thursday, March 14, 2024 from 9:30am-6pm

In Partnership with the Mannes School of Music at The New School College of Performing Arts

Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, Arnhold Hall, 2nd Floor, 55 West 13th Street, New York, NY

Free Registration & Information

The Chamber Music of Julia Perry

Thursday, March 14, 2024 at 7:30pm

In Partnership with the Mannes School of Music at The New School College of Performing Arts

Featuring Soloists from Experiential Orchestra; Donnie Ray Albert, Bass-Baritone; Brandon Patrick George, Flute; and Will Liverman, Baritone

Angela Hammond, Speaker

Chiwoniso Kaitano, Executive Director, MacDowell

Panel Discussion with Afa Dworkin, President and Artistic Director of the Sphinx Organization; Loki Karuna, Interdisciplinary Arts Activist; and Composer Anthony M. Kelley; moderated by Ashleigh Gordon, Co-Founder, Artistic Director & Violist of Castle of our Skins

John L. Tishman Auditorium 63 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY

Tickets & Information

Introducing Julia Perry to the Next Generation

Friday, March 15, 2024

Experiential Orchestra in a Side-by-Side Reading with Conservatory Students
Led by EXO Music Director James Blachly
With Violin Soloist Curtis Stewart; Fredara Hadley, Ph.D., Professor of Ethnomusicology, The Juilliard School; and Jennifer Arnold, Violist and Antiracism Advocate
The DiMenna Center for Classical Music, 50 W 37th St, New York, NY

Closed event. Festival participants only.

Closing Night with Experiential Orchestra, Violinist Curtis Stewart, Soprano Louise Toppin

Saturday, March 16, 2024 at 8pm
Presented by National Concerts

Featuring Experiential Orchestra; James Blachly, EXO Music Director; Curtis Stewart, Violin Soloist; Louise Toppin, Soprano; Students from Three New York City Conservatories; Ruckel Middle School Chorus (Niceville, FL); Sandra Day O’Connor HS Orchestra (San Antonio, TX)
Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, 1941 Broadway, New York, NY

Tickets & Information

Use code EXO316 for a 15% discount.

Programs subject to change. Visit www.JuliaPerryFestival.com for all festival updates and information.

For more information about the presenters and presenting partners:

Experiential Orchestra: www.experientialorchestra.com

James Blachly: www.jamesblachly.com

Videmus: www.videmus.org

Louise Toppin: www.louisetoppin.com

Mannes School of Music at The New School College of Performing Arts: www.newschool.edu/mannes

National Concerts: www.nationalconcerts.com

WQXR is the official media partner for the Julia Perry Centenary Celebration & Festival

For more information about American Counterpoints, Bright Shiny Things: Paula Mlyn, paula@a440arts.com



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