exo event

Closing Night with Experiential Orchestra, Curtis Stewart, & Louise Toppin

The Julia Perry Centenary Celebration and Festival Closing Night Concert features Perry’s Violin Concerto, and is presented by National Concerts

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Closing Night with Experiential Orchestra, Curtis Stewart, & Louise Toppin

About the Event

Presented by National Concerts

This concert is supported, in part, by a generous gift from the Theophilus-Rosa Foundation, a legacy of pianist Frances Walker Slocum

The Julia Perry Centenary Celebration and Festival Closing Night Concert, conducted by Experiential Orchestra Music Director James Blachly, features Julia Perry’s Violin Concerto performed by Curtis Stewart and the Experiential Orchestra, 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.


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) 


Performances by Ruckel Middle School Chorus and the Sandra Day O’Connor HS Orchestra

~ Intermission ~

I’m a Poor Li’l Orphan in this World by Julia Perry (1952) arr. Norpoth (world premiere of arrangement)
Louise Toppin, Soprano 
James Blachly, EXO Music Director
Experiential Orchestra

Prelude for Strings by Julia Perry (1946) (arr. Zahab)
James Blachly, EXO Music Director
Experiential Orchestra

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra by Julia Perry (1963-68, rev. 1977)
Curtis Stewart, Violin
James Blachly, EXO Music Director
Experiential Orchestra plus Students from Three New York City Conservatories

Ye, Who Seek the Truth by Julia Perry (1952, arr. Norpoth)
Louise Toppin, Soprano; James Blachly, EXO Music Director; Experiential Orchestra; Ruckel Middle School Chorus (Niceville, FL); and Sandra Day O’Connor High School Orchestra (San Antonio, TX) 

With kind cooperation of The Estate of Julia A. Perry, Akron, Ohio

Experiential Orchestra

James Blachly, Founder and Music Director
Pauline Kim Harris, Director of Artistic Planning

Flute 1
Catherine Gregory*

Flute 2/piccolo
Blue Shelton

Oboe 1
Christa Robinson*

Oboe 2
Jasper Igusa

Clarinet 1
Eric Umble*

Clarinet 2
Kah’lin Jordan

Tenor Saxophone
Yuma Uesaka*

Bassoon 1
Nanci Belmont*

Bassoon 2
Austin Wegener

Horn 1
Colin Weyman*

Horn 2
Laura Weiner

Horn 3
Luis Montesdeoca

Trumpet 1
Wayne Du Maine*

Trumpet 2
Marshall Kearse

Trombone 1
Burt Mason*

Trombone 2
Kalun Leung

Ian Sullivan*

Percussion 1
Jeremy Levine*

Percussion 2
Mika Godbole

William Cabison*

Jacqueline Kerrod*

1st Violin
Alex Fortes, Concertmaster
Henry Wang, Concertmaster
Katie Hyun
Megan Yao
Bihan Li
Juliana Pöyry

2nd Violin
Kobi Malkin*
Robyn Quinnett
Pauline Kim Harris
Sathvi Ramaseshan
Mikayla Chan
Eliana Valdivieso

Edwin Kaplan*
Jen Arnold*
Jack Rittendale
Cameren Anai Williams

Hamilton Berry*
Michael Katz*
August Schwob
 Julie Kim

Double Bass
Nathaniel Chase*
Anders Ruiter-Feenstra

*denotes principal

Biographical Sketch of Julia Perry

By Fredara M. Hadley, Ph.D.
The Juilliard School

Julia Perry may be new to 21st Century listeners, but she was well-known in her lifetime. Listening to her compositions and learning about her life is an act of rediscovery in the purest sense of the word because the world had, indeed, discovered her.

Julia Perry was a woman born in 1924 in Lexington, Kentucky, to an educated black family. She grew up in Akron, Ohio, the fourth of five sisters in a time where classical musical training was typical for a well-to-do black family such as hers. She was innately gifted and studied both voice and violin.

In the 1940s, Perry continued her studies at Westminster College where she studied voice, piano, and composition. Her studies culminated in earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree. History shows us that Perry soon began receiving recognition for both her musical talent and her compositions. In 1948 she attended the annual meeting of the National Association of Negro Musicians and won first prize in voice and tied for first prize in composition. In the same year, she began teaching at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), a Historically Black College located in Virginia renowned for its music program and Hampton Singers. The program was brought to prominence led by venerated composer, R. Nathaniel Dett. There, she taught voice, theory, orchestration, and composition. She also arranged spirituals and composed pieces including, “Song of Our Savior” and “Lord, What Shall I Do? A Spiritual by Julia Perry.” Although both were original compositions, they followed in the modal and antiphonal traditions of Negro Spirituals.

Though she taught, composing was her chosen vocation. Filled with her studies and teaching experiences, the 1950s were a productive era for her in which studied composition with Luigi Dallapiccola at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, Massachusetts. While at Tanglewood she completed her Stabat Mater and performed it to great acclaim. She then received two Guggenheim Fellowships in 1952 and 1954 to travel and study with Dallapiccola in Florence, Italy and then with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Yet again, Perry was recognized for her compositional talent when she won the Boulanger Grand Prix for her Viola Sonata. This period notes a shift in her compositional voice as she explored dissonance and abstraction and developed an eclectic musical language that would remain a throughline in the remainder of her work. One of the clearest examples of her new musical horizons was in her Short Piece for Orchestra which premiered in 1952 and was performed and recorded by The New York Philharmonic in 1965.

Perry spent most of the 1950s in Europe and critics often remarked on the absence of “africanisms” in her compositions. Yet the freedom to explore musical ideas however one sees fit is one of life’s greatest freedoms. Upon her return to the United States she crafted her own responses to the Civil Rights Era which was then cresting. She wrote pieces including her Fifth Symphony (“Integration Symphony) for Chamber Orchestra and her Tenth Symphony (“Soul Symphony) that incorporated elements of black popular music. She also reignited her affiliation with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) by teaching at Florida A&M University in 1967 and presenting lectures at the Atlanta University Center (the home of four HBCUs including Clark-Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morris Brown University, and Spelman College).

Unfortunately, by the 1960s mental and health challenges began to take their toll. Perry, who never married and had no children, was her own primary means of financial and creative support. Through physical paralysis she continued to write. When her right side became incapacitated, she taught herself to write with her left hand. Many urged her to donate her prolific oeuvre to an archive, but Perry, who had received so much commercial success in her lifetime kept her manuscripts in hopes that another publication opportunity would emerge. Sadly, that was not to be, and Julia Perry passed away on April 24, 1979.

Although many of her compositions are lost or only exist in manuscript form, listeners should listen to Julia Perry as a composer who followed her own call to freedom in an era where that was denied for many others. And perhaps Julia Perry was right, and her dreams of continuing acclaim are coming true after all.

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Julia Perry Centenary Celebration & Festival

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