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Why Is Philadelphia a Great Place to Make Music?

When Samuel Barber’s violin concerto was rejected by the man for whom it was commissioned in 1939, he turned to his alma mater — The Curtis Institute of Music — where the concerto was performed to acclaim, leading to its official premiere with The Philadelphia Orchestra. WRTI’s Susan Lewis talked to a panel of artists about Barber’s legacy, and the pleasures and perils of creating and performing new work in Philadelphia.

Listen to WRTI on Sunday, June 26th at 4 pm for a concert broadcast of Barber and Beyond: Symphony in C and Astral present Composing Philadelphia, featuring music by Barber, Michael Djupstrom, Melinda Wagner, and Efrain Amaya.  

Listen to a panel of artists talk about Philadelphia's vibrant musical scene, and what it's like creating and performing new music. Panelists include Symphony in C Music Director Stilian Kirov, composer Micheal Djupstrom, violinist Nikki Chooi, pianist Henry Kramer, and clarinetist Benito Meza.

Radio feature script:

MUSIC: Samuel Barber, Violin Concerto

Susan Lewis: Curtis graduate violinist Nikki Chooi says Barber’s influence is still alive at the conservatory.

Nikki Chooi: There’s a feeling of Barber just having a presence there.

SL: Barber and several Philadelphia-area composers are the focus of a program led by Symphony in C Music Director Stilian Kirov.

Stilian Kirov: In Philadelphia, we have a very, very diverse musical scene. 

SL: Now, as in Barber’s time, commissioning new music can be rife with uncertainty. Composer Michael Djupstrom.

MUSIC: Djupstrom, Suite from The Wedding

Michael Djupstrom: I think that commissioners are taking a big risk. As a composer I’m grateful for that, but I have to recognize all the time that commissioners don’t know what they’re getting.

SL: But the unknown has its own excitement. Pianist Henry Kramer, who’s playing a concerto by Melinda Wagner.

MUSIC: Wagner, Extremity of Sky

Henry Kramer: I’m only the second person to perform Extremity of Sky. I feel like a cowboy in the wild west, just marking my territory.

SL: The immigrant influence is also important, says Clarinetist Benito Meza, who performs a work by EfrainAmaya.

MUSIC: Amaya, Wuaraira Repano

Benito Meza: Irish, Russian, and Italian immigrants — also German.

SK: The opportunity in being free in what you create as an artist — that is the most valuable thing.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.