The Boston Symphony Orchestra has dedicated three weeks of its 2022–23 season to a festival entitled Voices of Loss, Reckoning, and Hope. Concerts led by BSO Germeshausen Youth and Family Concerts Conductor Thomas Wilkins and guest conductors Giancarlo Guerrero and André Raphel feature works by American composers Margaret Bonds, Uri Caine, Anthony Davis, William Dawson, William Grant Still, and Julia Wolfe, as well as Polish composer Henryk Górecki and English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor—music intended to provoke dialogue on social change.
Featuring a diverse range of guest conductors, composers, and performers, the Voices festival expands upon the BSO’s commitment to cultural relevancy, equity, and inclusion through musical and related educational programs that explore themes of racial equity and women’s rights and inequities in the criminal justice system.
BSO Festival Performances
The centerpiece of the Voices festival’s first BSO season program, on March 3-5—to be led by American conductor André Raphel—is an oratorio centered around the Reconstruction-era civil rights activist and African American educator Octavius Catto, whose fight for justice resulted in his murder in Philadelphia on Election Day, 1871.
- Philadelphia jazz pianist and composer Uri Caine’s gospel and popular music-based The Passion of Octavius Catto features the Uri Caine Trio (Uri Caine, piano, Mike Boone, bass, Clarence Penn, drums), vocalist Barbara Walker, and the Catto Chorus, made up of singers from churches and gospel choirs throughout greater Boston who join the BSO’s own Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Completing the program are English composer Coleridge-Taylor’s four-movement Petite Suite de Concert (1911) and Still’s 1930 Afro-American Symphony—a blues-tinged panorama evoking the composer’s heritage. The third movement of Still’s symphony is based on a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, “An Ante-Bellum Sermon,” on the subject of emancipation and citizenship for Blacks in America.
- The concert on March 3 at 8 p.m. is the third “Casual Friday” concert of the season, offering a shorter program (the Caine and Still works only) with no intermission, reduced pricing, remarks from the stage by an orchestra member, “conductor cam” seating, and post-concert Casual Conversation, during which the performers take audience questions. BSO Associate Principal Trumpet Thomas Siders will introduce this concert. Uri Caine and André Raphel will answer questions from the audience.
For the second Voices festival BSO program, on March 9-11, Thomas Wilkins, BSO Germeshausen Youth and Family Concerts Conductor, leads Anthony Davis’ concerto You Have the Right to Remain Silent, a musical response inspired by an intense encounter the composer had with law enforcement involving a case of mistaken identity, with clarinetist Anthony McGill (the New York Philharmonic’s first African American principal player) as soloist.
- You Have the Right to Remain Silent depicts in four movements the stages of Interrogation, Loss (emotional reaction to the trauma), Incarceration, and the “othering” of the citizen via the clarinet soloist’s emotionally dynamic interaction with the ensemble. Improvisation, stemming from Davis’ roots in jazz, honor one of the composer’s heroes, bassist / composer / bandleader Charles Mingus, who experienced racism throughout his career.
- Opening the program are selections from Margaret Bonds’ 1963 spiritual-based Montgomery Variations—about the crucial first decade of the mature civil-rights movement—a tribute to Montgomery, Alabama, and to Martin Luther King, Jr. Closing the program is William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony, which uses thematic material inspired by spirituals throughout. Dawson’s work garnered popular and critical acclaim at its premiere at Carnegie Hall in 1934 by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Leopold Stokowski.
Highlighting the third and final BSO program of the Voices festival, on March 16–18, is Julia Wolfe’s BSO co-commissioned Her Story, for vocal ensemble and orchestra, which invokes the words of historical figures and the spirit of pivotal moments—from a letter written by Abigail Adams to words attributed to Sojourner Truth, public attacks directed at women protesting for the right to vote, and political satire—to pay tribute to the centuries of ongoing struggle for equal rights, representation, and access to democracy for women in America.
- Featuring the Lorelei Ensemble (Beth Willer, Artistic Director), under the direction of frequent guest Giancarlo Guerrero, with stage direction by Anne Kauffman, scenic, lighting, and production design by Jeff Sugg, and costume design by Márion Talán de la Rosa, Her Story is the latest in a series of compositions by Wolfe—who draws inspiration from folk, classical, and rock alike—that highlight monumental and turbulent moments in American history and culture, and the people—both real and imagined, celebrated and forgotten—that defined them.
- A major co-commissioning project among the Boston, Nashville, Chicago, San Francisco, and National Symphony orchestras, Her Story was originally scheduled to be performed throughout the country during the 2019–20 season, until it was delayed due to the pandemic. Opening the program is Polish composer Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, which contemplates the pain of a mother mourning the loss of a son at war and features soprano Aleksandra Kurzak. The performances of Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, also falls under the season theme of musical perspectives on the tragedies of war and conflict.
Quote from Anthony Fogg, William I. Bernell Vice President, Artistic Planning:
“The three weeks of programs that make up the BSO’s Voices festival bring together a number of works that take as their inspiration the struggle to preserve and strengthen both musical and social identity. The grief of personal loss through war and social unrest finds voice in compositions of highly contrasting language and style.”
Free Events Related to the Festival
The Tanglewood Learning Institute (TLI) presents programming featuring guest speakers, panel discussions, and chamber music concerts that encourage dialogue on social change by expanding on the subjects covered by the Voices festival’s featured works.
All of these events are free, and attendance for those being held in other venues is on a first come, first served basis. Events taking place at Symphony Hall (marked with •) require tickets (for the season performances) or advance registration (for other programs).
Featured on March 3 in a free Community Chamber Concert are two works by Hawaii-based composer and educator Michael-Thomas Foumai, Printing Kapa and Defending Kalo, for violin and harp; rounding out the program are Ennanga for harp, piano, and string quartet by pioneering American composer William Grant Still, and Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 10 in E-flat, Op. 74 (Boston’s Fenway Center, 1:30 p.m.).
Also on March 3, local scholars Dr. Kabria Baumgartner, Dr. Kerri Greenidge, and Dr. Kendra Taira Field discuss the importance and influence of Boston-based African American musical artists (Symphony Hall, 5:30 p.m.). Free event, but tickets are required. See below for information on reserving tickets.
On March 4, Concert: A Spiritual Fantasy will be performed by Castle of Our Skins (Matthew Vera, violin; Annie Rabbat, violin; Ashleigh Gordon; viola; Lev Mamuya, cello) with special guest student performers from Project STEP (String Training Education Program). The work explores the African American qualities of strength, resilience, and community in music, pivotal forces that inspired the Philadelphia civil rights activist whose story is told in The Passion of Octavius Catto. Co-presented with the Boston Conservatory at Berklee (Studio 106 at Boston Conservatory at Berklee, 6 p.m.).
Another free event, the March 7 performance by the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, features music by American composers exploring themes of cultural and musical identity and performed by BSO principal players. The program includes Anthony Davis’ song was sweeter even so, Ulysses Kay’s Sonata for bassoon and piano, James Lee III’s Chôro sem tristeza for flute solo, and Jessie Montgomery’s Sgt. McCauley for winds and strings (Symphony Hall, 7:30 p.m.). The concert includes composer introductions, as well as post-performance discussion. Free event, but tickets are required. See below for information on reserving tickets.
For the March 9 “What I Hear” event, composer Anthony Davis curates a program of chamber music in connection with the BSO’s performance of his You Have the Right to Remain Silent later that evening. New England Conservatory musicians perform a program including his works Middle Passage and Still Waters III. A collaboration between the BSO and NEC, “What I Hear” is a series of free, hour-long programs featuring performances by NEC students and composer conversations with BSO Assistant Artistic Administrator Eric Valliere (New England Conservatory, 5:30 p.m.).
On March 11, creative professionals David Sterling Brown, Anthony Davis, Terrell Donnell Sledge, Keith Hamilton Cobb, David C. Howse, and Robert Manning, Jr., gather to explore the challenges that Black men face in expressing themselves in public (Symphony Hall, 5:30 p.m.). Free event, but tickets are required. See below for information on reserving tickets.
Closing the festival on March 18, the composer of Her Story, Julia Wolfe, is joined by scholars Dr. Jane Kamensky and Dr. Robyn C. Spencer-Antoine for a discussion of this groundbreaking new composition (Symphony Hall, 5:30 p.m.). Free event, but tickets are required. See below for information on reserving tickets.
TICKET INFORMATION FOR FREE RELATED EVENTS
How to reserve tickets for the free related events at Symphony Hall during Festival: Voices of Loss, Reckoning, and Hope
All of the related events are free; however, those taking place at Symphony Hall (marked with •) require advance registration for complimentary tickets. To register to attend, please visit the Voices Festival webpage or call Ticketing and Customer Service at 617-266-1200.