AN EXO PROJECT
Julia Perry Centenary Celebration & Festival
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, the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, and Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. In addition to EXO and Videmus, presenting partners include The New School to: 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 will be released by Bright Shiny Things on March 1, 2024.
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, 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."
The Julia Perry Centenary Celebration & Festival is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
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