Wynton Marsalis's Violin Concerto Really Sounds Like America

Aug 3, 2018

Born in 1961 in New Orleans, jazz and classical trumpet player, and composer, Wynton Marsalis grew up playing in churches, jazz bands, and orchestras. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, his 2015 violin concerto reflects the varied musical landscape of America.

Listen to WRTI 90.1 on Sunday, August 5 at 1 pm to hear Cristian Măcelaru lead The Philadelphia Orchestra in a performance of Marsalis’ Violin Concerto, with soloist Nicola Benedetti, for whom the work was written.

Radio script:

[Music: Marsalis's Violin Concerto]

Susan Lewis: The Marsalis Violin Concerto uses elements of jazz, swing, big band, blues, spirituals, gospel and ragtime. 

Cristian Măcelaru His music... always refers back to what he calls the human element.

SL: Conductor Cristian Măcelaru knows the work from its infancy. Brought in to do a workshop as it was being composed, Măcelaru has now conducted it with ­­­­five orchestras.

He is never bound by any tradition to express what is in his heart.

CM: He is very innovative with the way he uses the orchestra, and he is never bound by any tradition to express what is in his heart.

Carol Jantsch: I just love how he uses anything and everything in his arsenal as a composer.

SL: Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Tuba Carol Jantsch points to the way the music evokes vivid images including a dream sequence, a street party, and a call and response.

CJ: There’s a scene where the horns and trumpets are supposed to be ladies shouting out in church so they’re doing upward riffs, like a whap—kind of things—and the trombones are doing a lot of wah wah.

CM: What I love about it, is it refers so much about who we are as Americans. What makes something American is the combination of all the things around that. That is something very unique in the history of the world. Wynton is able to articulate that in a beautiful artistic, musical way. That what makes us American is all the influences that have come around.

SL: Marsalis, co-founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center, has also composed  four symphonies, a string quartet, and an oratorio, which won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Music.