Great Stages Gala & Concert Honoring Marian Anderson

Philadelphia Orchestra

Written by:
Lewis Whittington
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Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker was the keynote speaker for the rededication ceremony of the Marian Anderson Hall in Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts on June 8, at the home of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Anderson was born in Philadelphia and raised in Philadelphia and went on to become an internationally acclaimed opera star and civil-rights leader. The event was hosted by Matais Tarnopolsky, President and CEO of the Orchestra, and included speeches by many of the city’s arts patrons, civic leaders and. Mayor Parker presented family members of the singer with a replica of the Liberty Bell.

Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin spoke of Anderson’s groundbreaking career achievements as a classical singer and civil-rights leader. Anderson was the first black woman to perform at the White House and at the Metropolitan Opera. Arturo Toscanini said her a “once in a century” contralto.

In 1939 Anderson was barred from performing in Constitution Hall in Washington by the Daughters of the American Revolution because of her race. But, Anderson, with the help of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt instead made history when she sang in front of the Lincoln Memorial in front of 75,000 people, with millions more over the radio broadcast of the event.

The rededication kicked off a day of celebratory events that included a Gala Fundraiser at the historic Academy of Music was the prelude to the Philadelphia Orchestra Great Stages Gala concert that evening conducted by Nézet-Séguin .
Among the concert highlights-

The concert opened with the historic film projected on a screen over the Philadelphia Orchestra, of Marian Anderson singing ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’ at the Lincon Memorial mid-way The Philadelphia Orchestra played the anthem and as soprano Latonia Moore sang the second verse, her ethereal soprano soared in the newly christened Anderson Hall.

After the thunderous applause event host Queen Latifah, Kennedy Center Honoree Queen Latifah and conductor Yannick traded stories about Anderson’s life and career and her mission as an artist and civil right, honoring her many achievements in and enduring legacy in Philadelphia and worldwide.
From there it was a night of orchestral showpieces showcased Yannick’s ability to bring the full symphonic luster opening with the overture to Verdi’s la forza del destino. The finale of Sibelius’ ‘Finlandia’ Opus.26. and African American composer Florence Price’s ‘Juba’ movement from her Symphony No. 3. Price and Anderson were colleagues. The Philadelphia Orchestra and Nézet-Séguin won a Grammy for their latest recording of Price’s Symphonic works.

Composer Valerie Coleman’s ‘Fanfare for Marian’ commissioned by the orchestra, was a bit unsteady in this its premiere. Opening with an intriguing matrix of percussion, dramatic but rather unmoored to its orchestral soundscape. The symphonic progressions seemed soupy, perhaps under rehearsed. But the back half seemed to lock in and was more crystalized and musically cohesive. However shaky this debut, the audience embraced it.

Audra MacDonald’s passionate performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’ from South Pacific and Sondheim’s ‘Children Will Listen’  from ‘Into the Woods’ a combined medley with its searing political message about the arc of racism that manifest through generations. MacDonald’s vocal delivery full of heartfelt resolve.

Angel Blue performance of Puccini’s ‘vissi d’arte’ (‘I lived for art’) from Puccini’s Tosca, with Blue’s vocal artistry is simply flawless.

Jazz composer-pianist Marcus Robert brought down the house with his rendition of ‘Just A Closer Walk With Thee’ a traditional spiritual. Roberts singular artistry making it a panoramic musical journeying mix of ragtime wit, soulful blues, and with such moments of fiery virtuosity, the audience’s thunderous applause made the Marian Anderson Hall sound like a soccer stadium.

Roberts then accompanied Latonia Moore and Angel Blue led the traditional spiritual arranged by Florence Price ‘My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” the soloists soared but it was the St. Thomas Gospel Choir that took for the faithful and heathen to church.

Throughout the concert, Queen Latifah and Nézet-Séguin recounted Marian Anderson’s mission to use her voice and artform to break through racial injustices she faced throughout her career, but ultimately wasn’t strong enough to silence her voice. Anderson’s life and legacy remain a beacon of social justice, inclusivity, and access for all to experience the inestimable universal language of music.

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