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The Philadelphia Orchestra pairs Dawson's Negro Folk Symphony with Schumann's Piano Concerto

Tony Siqi Yun, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra
Pete Checchia
Tony Siqi Yun, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra

Join us on Sunday, Oct. 15 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1 and Monday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 as The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert brings you an encore program from the 2022/2023 season featuring William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony and Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, with the young Canadian pianist Tony Siqi Yun as soloist.

Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor had a convoluted genesis. Soon after his marriage to the celebrated piano virtuoso Clara Wieck, Schumann penned a single-movement Fantasy for piano and orchestra, with his new wife in mind. Clara played it in private rehearsals during the summer of 1841 with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and encouraged her husband to expand it into a full concerto on the classical model, with three movements. By 1845 he had added a final Rondo, and, last of all, a lyrical slow movement.

In its final form, the concerto is a work of confidence and innovation. Its forceful opening, with the pianist storming in after a bold chord from the full orchestra, sets up a true partnership between soloist and ensemble that continues throughout, recalling Schumann’s own prediction of many years earlier. He had written that someday “a genius will show us in a new and brilliant way how to combine the orchestra with the piano such that pianists, taking the lead, can display the riches of their instrument while the orchestra is allowed to act as more than a mere bystander.” That is precisely what Schumann himself achieved in this concerto.

Pianist Tony Siqi Yun on playing Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto

The Negro Folk Symphony by William Dawson is a rediscovery for The Philadelphia Orchestra, which premiered it back in 1934 under Leopold Stokowski. “Dawson has succeeded in portraying that aspect of American life which he has seen and lived and felt most profoundly,” Stokowski remarked of this three-movement work at the time. “He has voiced the spirit of his people struggling in a new land; the ancient voice of Africa transferred to America.” The symphony received glowing reviews in both Philadelphia and New York, where the orchestra played it a few days after the premiere. There was even a national radio broadcast.

Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin on the importance of playing Dawson's music today

But then came a silence of sorts. There were isolated performances, but the symphony seemed to fall off the radar, until recently. As Yannick notes in an interview with Susan Lewis, this “mind-blowing” symphony is one he especially wants to restore to the orchestra’s regular repertory. In this week’s concert, he leads the 1952 revision of the score, which followed Dawson’s sojourn in West Africa and infused the music with a sense of the complex rhythmic patterns he encountered there.


Schumann: Piano Concerto in a minor, Op. 54

Dawson: Negro Folk Symphony 

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Yannick Nezet-Seguin, conductor

Tony Siqi Yun, piano


Melinda Whiting: Host

Alex Ariff: Senior Producer

Susan Lewis: Consulting Producer

Joseph Patti: Broadcast Engineer

Listen to The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts every Sunday at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1, streaming at WRTI.org, on the WRTI mobile app, and on your smart speaker. Listen again on Mondays at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2. Listen for up to two weeks after broadcast on WRTI Replay. 

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.