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National Endowment for the Humanities Awards $300,000 to Four Orchestras for “Music Unwound,” Humanities-Infused Thematic Concert Programs

North Carolina Symphony, Pacific Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic and Louisville Orchestra become the first orchestra recipients of NEH public programs funding in more than a decade.

RALEIGH, N.C.—A consortium of the North Carolina Symphony, Pacific Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic and the Louisville Orchestra has become the joint recipient of a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities in support of a multi-year commitment to integrate humanities content with live concert performances. The project, “Music Unwound,” aspires to illustrate that contextualization in the presentation of art can promote fresh possibilities for emotional and intellectual engagement among concertgoers. At its core, “Music Unwound” is a concerted effort to correlate language, literature, culture, philosophy and visual arts with music, while forging new alliances between and among orchestras, museums and universities in each host city. This is the first NEH public programs grant to go to an orchestra in a decade.

Jesse Rosen, president of the League of American Orchestras, calls “Music Unwound” a project “of the utmost significance not only to the participating organizations but to the evolution of programming and audience building in American orchestras.”

Pacific Symphony Music Director Carl St.Clair has devoted his tenure to designing festivals and concert series that enable audiences to engage more deeply with both new music and standard orchestral repertoire. “Music Unwound” originated with a series of concerts developed by St.Clair within the organization’s classical series, specifically designed to experiment with new forms of audience engagement. The 2011/12 season is the third of the three-year initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in which three symphony concerts per season use new concert formats and thematic programming to contextualize music and enrich the concert music experience. The Symphony pioneered this new way of presenting an important piece of music or composer (or both) with multimedia and other enhancements to allow the audience deeper insights, understanding and a richer enjoyment of these concerts.

“With ‘Music Unwound,’ Carl wanted to take audience engagement to the next level,” says Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte, “by partnering with major cultural institutions and visiting scholars in an effort to bring a historic and cultural context to the works on these programs. We are thrilled to be…sharing content with important orchestras throughout the U.S. We hope ‘Music Unwound’ will be a template for orchestral institutions to greatly enhance their ability to serve a broader public.”

Two “Music Unwound” topics are being developed by New York-based author and scholar and Pacific Symphony artistic advisor Joseph Horowitz, linking symphonic concerts with humanities content and affecting a variety of strategies and challenges for the symphonic field. Each topic focuses on a composer to illuminate issues of culture and society, with each orchestra exploring one or both via festivals incorporating multimedia subscription concerts. These scripted events, incorporating visual tracks, would subsequently be offered elsewhere. The project’s national reach includes ancillary components such as lectures; recitals; museum exhibits; and collaborating with middle schools, high schools and universities.

“Surveys conducted by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Pacific Symphony have confirmed that symphonic subscribers are today looking for new concert formats incorporating some explication and other extra-musical components,” says Horowitz. “The challenge, obviously, is to offer something that doesn’t patronize or simplify and that equally suits ‘old listeners’ and ‘new listeners.’ We believe that it can be done—and that at the same time, programming of this kind can create linkages to museums and educational institutions that can amplify an orchestra’s service to the community.”

The two “Music Unwound” topics include “Dvorak and America,” which focuses on issues of race and national identity catalyzed by urbanization and immigration a century ago—issues that remain crucial to the American experience today; and “Copland and Mexico,” which uses a popular American composer as a bridge to galvanizing a Mexican composer too little-known in the United States—Silvestre Revueltas—and to Mexican music and culture generally. As an exercise in outreach, it tests what an orchestra can do to court a less traditional constituency.

Jorge Mester, music director of the Louisville Orchestra and a native of Mexico City, comments, “’Music Unwound’ is emblematic of the melding of art and artistic sensibilities through time. National styles and native musical forms have been shared across boundaries since the earliest days of orchestras, and as the world embarked on the fastest pace of growth in history in the early 20th century, these influences permeated the creative approach for many composers, painters and writers.

“I had the pleasure of spending time with Aaron Copland in Mexico in the 1950s,” Mester continues. “We had the opportunity to discuss his affection for the national music of my country and the profound impact it had on his compositional style. One quiet afternoon we went to the movies and Copland’s El Salon Mexico played in the background to the newsreel that local audiences were watching. He remained a generous friend to Mexican musicians and to me throughout his lifetime.”

“Music Unwound” derives in part from a 2008 New York Philharmonic project, “Inside the Music,” which explored Dvorak’s New World Symphony with Alec Baldwin (narrator), Kevin Deas (actor/singer), Marin Alsop (conductor) and Peter Bogdanoff (video artist), with Joseph Horowitz as writer and producer. (Bogdanoff continues to contribute as video artist for “Music Unwound.”) Both topics are an extension of other earlier projects led by Horowitz: the NEH National Education Project “Dvorak and America,” which supported the creation of Horowitz’s young readers book Dvorak and America, and the Robert Winter/Peter Bogdanoff companion interactive DVD (materials that are being used in classrooms by three of the consortium orchestras); and the NEH Teacher-Training Institute on “Dvorak and America,” for teachers of grades three to 12.

“The conductor Theodore Thomas, who inspirationally propagated symphonic culture throughout the U.S. in the late 19th century, preached: ‘A symphony orchestra shows the culture of the community,’” says Horowitz. “In many communities, large and small, Thomas’s prophecy proved true. In the course of the 20th century, however, many American orchestras lost influence—in the community; in the culture at large. ‘Music Unwound’ is conceived in the conviction that if orchestras are to regain impact as agents of cultural identity, a broader humanities mandate can vitally enhance both their mission and their capacity.

This most recent evolution of “Music Unwound” has catalyzed an intense period of collaborative planning outside the usual concert parameters. It has already changed the organizational culture of the four orchestras; each has in some way enlarged its artistic mission. Altogether, “Music Unwound” aligns the efforts of more than 450 artists and scholars. The four orchestras plan to publish expanded illustrated program books for “Music Unwound” concerts, including notes and essays by the lead participating scholars and performers.

Louisville Orchestra CEO Robert Birman remarks, “The landscape of the American orchestral experience is crying out for something new, something with greater impact, more context and relevance for younger audiences. ‘Music Unwound’ delivers an array of entry points through which listeners of all ages can engage and interact with orchestras—across artistic disciplines—and I applaud Joseph Horowitz for his commitment to connecting audiences with a broader context of history.”

Birman adds, “I’m a firm believer that people don’t know what they like; they like what they know. ‘Music Unwound’ will open new doors and could serve as a model for community engagement for American orchestras long into the future.

Sample “Music Unwound” events:

MULTIMEDIA ORCHESTRAL PRODUCTIONS: With host, actor, orchestra and continuous visual presentation, productions include (as examples) readings from letters from Copland, Revueltas, Diego Rivera, Frieda Kahlo and others from Mexico interspersed between performances of works of Copland and Reuveltas, and live screening of film excerpts with orchestral accompaniment. Performances of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” set to visual and narrative contextual accompaniment.

LECTURES: “Mexican Revolutionaries: Paul Strand, Silvestre Revueltas and the Mexican muralists,” featuring Gregorio Luke (former director of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, former consul of cultural affairs of Mexico in Los Angeles and the first secretary of the Embassy of Mexico in Washington, D.C.) lecturing on the arts and the Mexican Revolution, with a performance of Revueltas’s String Quartet No. 4 by local participating musicians. “Dvorak and Nineteenth Century Painting,” by Timothy Barringer, professor of art history at Yale University.

FILM: “Redes” (Fishman’s Nets)—1935 docu-drama made by Mexican and U.S. filmmakers for the Secretaría de Educación Pública of the Mexican Government. The story is set amongst a small fishing community and shot on location in Mexico at a river mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. Black and white with Spanish dialogue and English subtitles, the film was among the early credits of Paul Strand and Fred Zinnemann, with film score by Silvestre Revueltes. Participating orchestras will have access to a new print of “Redes” struck by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation and premiered at Cannes to great acclaim.

PHOTOGRAPHY: “Paul Strand: Mexican Portfolio,” an Aperture Foundation (NYC) exhibition featuring Strand’s 1940 “Mexican Portfolio,” comprising 20 images. The exhibit includes an introduction by Strand’s associate Leo Hurwitz, a pioneer in American documentary film; an afterword by David Alfonso Siqueiros, with Rivera and Orozco one of the three seminal Mexican muralists; Strand’s personal notes about the portfolio; four stills from “Redes”; and a DVD of “Redes,” shown in a loop, plus an essay on Strand and Revueltas by Gregorio Luke.

CHAMBER MUSIC PERFORMANCES: Featuring (as example) Dvorak’s assistant Harry Burleigh’s arrangements of Negro Spirituals and Dvorak’s American String Quartet performed by student or university faculty musicians.

About the North Carolina Symphony

Founded in 1932, the North Carolina Symphony performs over 175 concerts annually to adults and school children. The orchestra travels extensively throughout the state to venues in over 50 North Carolina counties. Under the artistic leadership of Music Director and Conductor Grant Llewellyn, Resident Conductor William Henry Curry and Associate Conductor Sarah Hicks, the orchestra employs 67 professional musicians.

Based in downtown Raleigh’s spectacular Meymandi Concert Hall at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts and an outdoor summer venue at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, N.C., the Symphony performs about 60 concerts annually in the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Cary metropolitan area and holds additional concerts in venues across the state throughout the year.

For tickets, program notes, podcasts—or just to get to know your Symphony musicians—visit the North Carolina Symphony Web site at www.ncsymphony.org. Call North Carolina Symphony Audience Services at 919.733.2750 or toll free 877.627.6724. The State of North Carolina has issued your Symphony an $8 million challenge; learn more at www.ncsymphony.org/challenge.

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