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The Philadelphia Orchestra celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. at Girard College, and live on WRTI

Martin Luther King, Jr., Tribute Concert at Girard College Chapel
Jeff Fusco
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The Philadelphia Orchestra's Martin Luther King, Jr., Tribute Concert at Girard College Chapel, in 2020.

Join us in celebrating the life and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as we bring you The Philadelphia Orchestra’s 32nd annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Tribute Concert, led by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, on Monday, Jan. 16 at 3 p.m. WRTI will broadcast the concert live from the historic chapel of Girard College, for the first time since 2020.

This annual concert, first presented by the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1991, honors the achievements of the famed civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and reflects his beliefs and convictions. Combining the traditions of Black culture and Western classical music, the event pays tribute to Dr. King’s vision of a society free of prejudice and racial divisions, and his belief in the power of music to effect change. 

CAPA Chorus and The Philadelphia Orchestra
Jeff Fusco
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The Philadelphia Orchestra with the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts Chorus, during the Martin Luther King, Jr., Tribute Concert at Girard College Chapel in 2020.

Nézet-Séguin will lead The Philadelphia Orchestra in works by Jessie Montgomery, Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, and Samuel Barber. The concert opens with “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamund Johnson — long acknowledged as the “Black National Anthem,” and sung here by the combined choruses of Girard College and the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. They’re also featured in two pieces that conclude the concert: the spiritual “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” and Richard Smallwood’s “Anthem of Praise.”

In between, the program includes Starburst, a short piece for strings by contemporary composer and violinist Jessie Montgomery, and several selections from a work by Margaret Bonds inspired by Dr. King and the 1963 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama — a crucial moment in the American civil rights movement. Violin soloist Melissa White is featured in a movement from Florence Price’s First Violin Concerto, composed in 1939 but thought lost until 2009, when hundreds of scores by this important 20th-century composer were rediscovered.

Charlotte Blake Alston and Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Jeff Fusco
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Narrator Charlotte Blake Alston and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin during The Philadelphia Orchestra's Martin Luther King, Jr., Tribute Concert, in 2020.

In addition, Charlotte Blake Alston — The Philadelphia Orchestra’s resident storyteller, narrator, and host — offers a staple of this annual concert: the inspiring words of Martin Luther King, Jr., heard as the Orchestra performs Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

The concert’s return to Girard College marks a welcome homecoming. In 2021, the pandemic forced the cancellation of this annual event — and when it resumed in 2022, it was held in Verizon Hall so that the audience could be socially distanced. For 2023, the concert returns to Girard College, which, along with Global Citizen, is the Philadelphia Orchestra’s partner in presenting this highlight of its season.

PROGRAM

Johnson: “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

Montgomery: Starburst

Price: Violin Concerto in D major: I. Tempo moderato

Bonds: Selections from Montgomery Variations

Barber: Adagio for Strings

Trad.: “Children, Go Where I Send Thee”

Smallwood: “Anthem of Praise”

PERFORMERS

WRTI concert broadcast hosted by Melinda Whiting

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor

Melissa White, violin

Charlotte Blake Alston, narrator

Girard College High School Choir (Paul Eaton, director)

Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts Chorus (Lauren Thomas-Moyer, director)

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Melinda has worked in radio for decades, hosting and producing classical music and arts news. An award-winning broadcaster, she has created and hosted classical music programs and reported for NPR, WQXR—New York, WHYY–Philadelphia, and American Public Media. WRTI listeners may remember her years hosting classical music for WFLN and WHYY.