“We’re looking beyond our narrow border to expand our repertoire and vision and sense of social responsibility as a civic arts organization,” said concertmaster David Kim. “It’s important to embrace that and be a voice of art and culture to include many new works and recordings by women, people of color, overlooked composers. Audiences have enjoyed and been astonished at how beautiful these works are and are embracing them. It’s a success story for us and we’re proud to be the leader.”
That’s why SPAC audiences will get several premieres from such composers as Florence Price (1887-1953), who became the first black female composer to have a symphony performed by a major American orchestra; Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) whose work received high praise from Robert Schumann; and living composers Valerie Coleman and the orchestra’s composer-in-residence Gabriela Lena-Frank.
The local season will be short, but the regular morning rehearsals will go on as usual.
“We know the music, so we’re not feeling we’ve got to rush to learn anything new,” he said.
The orchestra takes all this in stride, but for Coleman and Lena-Frank, it’s still a thrill to have their work performed by these musicians.
“The Philadelphia Orchestra is such a gift,” Coleman said. “They have almost an ESP about their playing. . .playing like a chamber music group. They breathe together.”
Her piece, “Seven O’Clock Shout,” will be performed on Aug. 12, Thursday. It is her second work the orchestra has played.
Coleman’s association with the orchestra began a few years ago. At the time Coleman was the flutist with the Imani Winds, a Grammy nominated woodwind quintet she founded in 1997. As a woman of color and a double degree graduate in flute performance and composition from Boston University, she said she automatically began writing for the group to represent the African diaspora. While she continued to do both for years, this posed concerns, she said, because being a performer and a woman of color who was also a composer left people confused.
“I’m a great believer in hybridity,” Coleman said. “Society always wants to put you in one box or another.”
However, one of her pieces that Imani used as an encore became very popular and it was that which got the Philadelphia Orchestra’s attention.
“They reached out to me to have me rearrange the piece for orchestra,” she said. “I also wanted to build a relationship with them. To give a composer a chance to know these players and to evolve with their writing…it allowed me to push the envelope.”
After twenty years with Imani, Coleman decided to retire from the group.
“I still play flute, but I wanted to see how far I could take being a composer,” she said.
Last May, the orchestra asked her to do a five minute piece for their gala that would be a salute to the pandemic’s essential workers, a comment on everyone’s isolation, racial unrest and a declaration of human survival. The work has since been played several times, including at the Vail residency.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Aug. 11-14
WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center
HOW MUCH: $40 – $105; $30, lawn
MORE INFO: www.spac.org; 518 – 584 – 9330