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The Philadelphia Orchestra honors MLK at Girard College and on WRTI

Yannick Nézet-Séguin with The Philadelphia Orchestra at Girard College during the 2023 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day concert.
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin with The Philadelphia Orchestra at Girard College during the 2023 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day concert.

Join us in celebrating the life and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as we bring you The Philadelphia Orchestra’s 33rd annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Tribute Concert, led by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, on Monday, Jan. 15 at 3 p.m. WRTI will broadcast the concert live from the historic chapel of Girard College.

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

Nézet-Séguin will lead The Philadelphia Orchestra in works by Adolphus Hailstork, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, William Grant Still, 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 the concert’s concluding works: “Hallelujah!” from Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration and Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise.”

In between, the program includes the Philadelphia Orchestra’s first-ever performances of Fanfare on “Amazing Grace” by Adolphus Hailstork and Patterns by William Grant Still. Violin soloist Annelle Gregory is featured in a movement from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto in G minor, Op. 80, also a Philadelphia Orchestra first performance.

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 has a special connection to Girard College, which has played an important role in African American history. 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. Last year the concert made its welcome return to Girard College, which, along with Global Citizen, is The Philadelphia Orchestra’s partner in presenting this highlight of its season.


Johnson: “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

Hailstork: Fanfare on “Amazing Grace”

Still: Patterns

Coleridge-Taylor: Violin Concerto in g minor, Op. 80: I. Allegro maestoso

Barber: Adagio for Strings

Handel: “Hallelujah!” from Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration

Smallwood: “Total Praise”


WRTI concert broadcast hosted by Melinda Whiting

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor

Annelle Gregory, 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.