Author: Mike Rush

D.C. Youth Orchestra convenes outdoors for first in-person rehearsal since 2020

A group of D.C. Youth Orchestra students gathered for their first in-person rehearsal since March 2020. Photo by Jenny Gathright

“On his way to The Fields at RFK Campus on Saturday, Evan Ross Solomon was thinking about a single musical note: an A,” writes Jenny Gathright in Wednesday’s (3/31) DCist (Washington, D.C.). “Ross Solomon, the artistic director and a principal conductor of the D.C. Youth Orchestra, was getting ready to lead his first in-person rehearsal in more than a year…. Saturday was a momentous step forward: The group held an in-person, outdoor rehearsal with a group of about 20 students, mostly high schoolers…. It felt like a fairly routine rehearsal—apart from the health precautions the orchestra put into place…. ‘When the kids first started, they were shy and a little bit inside themselves, which is not surprising given the year that we’ve all had,’ said Liz Schurgin, the DC Youth Orchestra Program’s Executive Director. ‘As the music went on, they began to open up—and I could feel it.’ … ‘I’m really, really excited,’ said 18-year-old [cellist] Nailah Harris… Harris said even though the group had been rehearsing the music on their own for months, putting it together in person felt different. ‘I’m hoping this step can help people come together and play music again.’ ”

Seattle Symphony’s ongoing series of streamed concerts with local bands

In September 2020, the Seattle Symphony and Whitney Mongé recorded a concert at Benaroya Hall that was streamed the following month. Photo by James Holt

“ ‘If there is a silver lining to the pandemic,’ says Seattle Symphony associate conductor Lee Mills, ‘it’s that Seattle artists whom the orchestra wants to work with are all in town. Typically they’d be busy with touring,’ ” writes Tom Keogh in Monday’s (3/22) Seattle Times. “The artists Mills is specifically referring to are local stars from various popular music genres who have already collaborated, or who will collaborate with, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra as part of the latter’s new Essential Series program…. Blues vocalist-guitarist Whitney Mongé kicked off the Essential Series in October, performing with the orchestra on the new online streaming platform Seattle Symphony Live…. Mills, the conductor for the concerts in the series, is looking forward to working with the five-member Ivan & Alyosha in a concert thoughtfully arranged to bring nuance to the sonic partnership of two formidable ensembles. The arranger for the Essential Series performances is Andrew Joslyn … a busy orchestrator and composer for films and recording artists, and a violinist with the Passenger String Quartet…. ‘It will be fun to see the range of colors we’re allowed to add to what we thought was a pretty full palate,’ says Mills.”

Orlando Philharmonic to perform free concert for arts teachers at public schools

On March 23, the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra will present a free outdoor concert in Orlando for performing and visual arts teachers from local Florida school districts. The concert will take place in front of the Dr. Phillips Center, which is operating a six-month-long Frontyard Festival during the pandemic. Teachers from Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Volusia, and Lake County Public Schools have been invited to the concert, entitled The Heart of the Arts: Celebrating ARTS Teachers. March is nationally designated as Arts in Our Schools Month. The Orlando Philharmonic has a long-standing partnership with Orange County Public Schools, presenting live concerts and in-school music lessons to students. “Central Florida Arts teachers have stepped up to thrive in spite of the challenging times in which we are living,” said Dr. Mary Palmer, president of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra board. “Even in these challenging times, teachers have found new ways for students to engage in creating and sharing their work. The Orlando Philharmonic has created an evening of powerful music to celebrate and thank some of our heroes: arts teachers in our community.”

Obituary: Harpsichordist Kenneth Cooper, 79

“Kenneth Cooper, a harpsichordist, pianist and musicologist who was acclaimed for performances of Baroque music that balanced historical insights with engaging spontaneity, whose nearly 100 recordings included forays into contemporary works and ragtime, and whose collaborators included Yo-Yo Ma, died on March 13 in Manhattan. He was 79,” writes Anthony Tommasini in Friday’s (3/19) New York Times. “He had suffered a stroke a few days earlier at his Manhattan apartment. Mr. Cooper had a flair for improvisation and ornamentation based on his scholarly studies of early music practices…. In 1993, … [he founded] the Berkshire Bach Ensemble … which he directed for 23 years…. Kenneth Cooper was born in New York City … and … began studying piano at a young age. [He studied] at the Mannes College of Music with the eminent harpsichordist Sylvia Marlow. He then attended Columbia University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s and, in 1971, a doctorate in musicology.… Mr. Cooper performed regularly at festivals in Santa Fe, N.M.; Lucerne, Switzerland; and Salzburg, Austria. He also appeared with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center…. He taught at Barnard, Columbia, Mannes and elsewhere.” Survivors include his wife, soprano and voice teacher Josephine Mongaiaro-Cooper; their son, actor and singer Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper; and a sister, Constance Cooper.

Comparing performances of Beethoven symphonies—with machine learning

“A Duke University team has developed a machine learning algorithm that ‘listens’ to multiple performances of the same piece and can tell the difference between, say, the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra,” writes Robin Smith in Monday’s (3/22) Duke Today, published by the university. “In a study published in a recent issue of the journal Annals of Applied Statistics, the team set the algorithm loose on all nine Beethoven symphonies as performed by 10 different orchestras over nearly eight decades, from a 1939 recording of the NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini, to Simon Rattle’s version with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2016…. Ph.D. student Anna Yanchenko and statistical science professor Peter Hoff converted each audio file into plots, called spectrograms and chromatograms…. After aligning the plots, they calculated the timbre, tempo and volume changes for each movement, using new statistical methods they developed to look for consistent differences and similarities among orchestras in their playing.… Yanchenko [is] a longtime concert-goer at the Boston Symphony Orchestra in her home state of Massachusetts. But she says her work helps her compare performance styles on a much larger scale than would be possible by ear alone.”

Aiken Symphony brings music education to students with virtual “Concerts in Classrooms” series

“The Aiken Symphony Orchestra is providing local public schools free educational videos about classical music with the ‘Concerts in Classrooms’ project,” writes Blakeley Bartee in Saturday’s (3/20) Aiken Standard (Aiken, SC). “Featuring professional musicians who demonstrate their craft onscreen, the video series takes students through four periods of Western music: Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th Century…. The series offers three levels of content for elementary, middle and high school students…. The program began in February and will continue through May, with a new video in the series being released to the Aiken County School District each month…. Hosting the 25-minute videos is Dr. Nisan Ak … [who] wrote the scripts and coordinated the guest musicians for the series. One of the goals of the videos is to help children become better listeners of classical music…. ‘It does develop the abstract brain,’ … Ak said…. ‘Your concentration gets not just deeper, but also better …’ Feedback for the project has been overwhelmingly positive, said Ak and [executive director Deedee] Vaughters…. Vaughters said as soon as pandemic conditions allow, the organization will offer in-person field trips as well as a virtual component for students in Aiken County.”

Silkroad receives $3 million for education, artistic programs, social justice initiatives

“Silkroad, the non-profit organization founded by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and home of the Silkroad Ensemble, has been awarded $3 million by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation,” reads an unsigned article in Friday’s (3/19) The Strad (U.K.). “The gift—the largest in Silkroad’s 21-year history—will support a four-year capacity-building effort to expand educational initiatives for social justice and equity, and to create new musical projects under the leadership of Artistic Director Rhiannon Giddens…. ‘This grant is hugely meaningful at a time during which we are focused on re-envisioning Silkroad’s artistic and education programs and growing our social impact work,’ said Giddens.… ‘We will be able to realize our ambitious goals and sustain our commitment to social justice and equity through music and arts education.’ Executive Director Kathy Fletcher added, … ‘With this generous grant award, Silkroad is poised to continue breaking down boundaries and accomplishing its mission of connecting people across race, religion, culture, and language.’ ” Areas supported by the grant will include artistic projects, commissions of new music, educational residencies and curriculum development, community-based events, expansion of Silkroad programs, diversity, equity, and inclusion training, and a new cash reserve.

Tulsa Opera drops composer Roumain from concert memorializing 1921 massacre

“The Tulsa Opera has canceled a piece written for a concert on the city’s 1921 race massacre after the composer of one of four pieces for the event refused a request to remove a curse on America from the piece,” states an unsigned article on Monday’s (3/22) Associated Press. “New York composer Daniel Roumain said Sunday he was commissioned to write for mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves one of four libretti for a ‘Greenwood Overcomes’ concert scheduled for a May 1 performance by the Tulsa Opera. Roumain balked, however, when Graves, who is Black, objected to the final line after the line ‘God Bless America’—’God Damn America’—in his They Still Want To Kill Us libretto and Opera officials wanted it changed. ‘As a Black woman, I am a huge supporter of all Black Lives, Black expression and creativity.’ Graves said … ‘I don’t have trouble with strong lyrics, but I felt that they did not line up with my personal values….’ Tobias Picker, the Opera’s creative director, ‘suggested I omit the word “Damn.” I refused, explaining that is how I felt about this county,’ Roumains said … ‘So, they fired me.’… The Opera, ‘Denyce Graves and all of the other 22 Black composers and eight Black artists, as well as … the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, are committed to the spirit of the “Greenwood Overcomes” concert,’ Picker said.”

New York Philharmonic adds streamed concert of Mary Lou Williams, William Grant Still, Copland, and Ives

The New York Philharmonic has added a second newly recorded concert to its on-demand streaming service NYPhil+, conducted by Tito Muñoz, with pianist Aaron Diehl. Diehl serves as soloist in selections from Mary Lou Williams’s Zodiac Suite (together with bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Aaron Kimmel) and William Grant Still’s Out of the Silence, from Seven Traceries. The program also includes Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite (for 13 instruments), Ives’s The Unanswered Question, and Copland’s Quiet City, featuring Philharmonic Principal Trumpet Christopher Martin and English horn player Ryan Roberts. NYPhil+ launched in February and includes new and archival programs of standard repertoire and contemporary music by composers including David Lang, Tania León, Jessie Montgomery, Ellen Reid, Julia Wolfe, and Nina C. Young. Click here for more information.

Free member-only League webinar: overview of the latest COVID-19 relief opportunities

The sixth federal COVID-19 relief package, the American Rescue Plan, will extend or expand nearly every form of federal assistance available to orchestras amid the coronavirus pandemic, including the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants, Employee Retention Tax Credit, and National Endowment for the Arts funding. The relief package also introduces new opportunities. On Friday, March 19 at 1:00 pm Eastern/10:00 am Pacific, the League of American Orchestras’ Washington, DC-based advocacy team will present a quick review of the latest developments and a guided tour of League COVID-19 resources. Free for League members, the webinar will provide greater understanding of how the new COVID-19 relief package applies to orchestras, explore League resources that can help orchestras navigate various forms of relief, and explain how to stay engaged with policy leaders in the coming months. The March 19 webinar will be followed by additional learning events that take deeper dives into relief provisions.
The free, League member-only webinar on the latest COVID-19 relief opportunities takes place on Friday, March 19 at 1:00 pm Eastern/10:00 am Pacific. Learn more and register here. If you can’t attend the live webinar, register to receive the recording. Contact League Member Services at with questions.