Experiential Orchestra and James Blachly highlight African Diaspora Music Project in season opener

Renewal: An Evening with Louise Toppin

Experiential Orchestra (EXO)

James Blachly, Music Director & Louise Toppin, Soprano


Saturday, October 2, 2021 at 8pm

Cary Hall at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music | NYC

Tickets: $50 General Admission | $75 Reserved Seating through Eventbrite


Featuring Two New York Premieres by Julia Perry

Plus Music by Quinn Mason, Jessica Meyer, David Baker,

William Grant Still, and Jessie Montgomery

Highlighting EXO’s Partnership with the African Diaspora Music Project

Fresh from winning its first Grammy Award, Experiential Orchestra (EXO), led by Music Director James Blachly, opens its 2021-22 season on Saturday, October 2, 2021 at 8pm with a concert at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music (450 W. 37th St., NYC) highlighting its partnership with the African Diaspora Music Project (ADMP). Featuring ADMP Founder and Editor, celebrated soprano Dr. Louise Toppin, the program includes two New York premieres by 20th century African-American composer Julia Perry – her Prelude for Strings from 1946, revised 1962 and newly orchestrated by Roger Zahab, and Symphony for Violas and Basses from 1961, a substantial one-movement work. The concert also includes Quinn Mason’s Reflections on a Memorial (2020), Jessica Meyer’s Through Which We Flow (2017), and three works for voice – “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel” by David Baker from his cycle Wisdom (1990), recorded by Toppin; “Golden Days” by William Grant Still from his opera Costaso (1950); and Jessie Montgomery’s I Want to Go Home (2015), premiered with the composer, Julia Bullock, and Blachly in 2015.

A conversation with Toppin will follow the concert, focusing on her remarkable career as a world-renowned soprano and scholar with more than 30 works written for her by composers including Adolphus Hailstork, Julius Williams, and many others. The program has been curated by Toppin and Blachly, who serves as associate editor of ADMP, and highlights composers included in the ADMP database, which now includes more than 4,000 works for voice and more than 1,200 works for orchestra.

Toppin says, “This concert is an outgrowth of my collaboration with James Blachly on the African Diaspora Music Project, and it is a distinct pleasure to present vocal repertoire that represents three generations of pioneering two African American composers with New York City connections. This concert shows the capability of using this powerful new research tool, and we hope that other organizations will use the database as a resource as they seek to broaden their programming. For the audience that attends this concert, we hope to engage them with new American narratives through the music we perform.”

Blachly says, “Since May 2020, Louise and I have worked closely together on a daily basis to add an orchestral repertoire to her astounding scholarship of music for voice by African diaspora composers, and this concert is a celebration of the launch of this new database including orchestral repertoire, as well as a celebration of Louise herself, who has become a close friend and inspiration. The goal of the database is to assist performing organizations in their programming by creating an easily searchable database that leads curators to published materials, streamlining the research process, and we are excited to be launching a publishing branch of the project shortly. The music we have selected for this concert speaks to the heart, and all reflects on the events and circumstances of the past year and a half, in direct or subtle ways.”

EXO General Manager Lee Ramsey says "The Experiential Orchestra is thrilled to make this return to live performance after a year of virtual programming. We are excited to open this season with a celebration of our partnership with the ADMP, bringing the work of Julia Perry to New York audiences."

For more information about the composers on this program, please see:

Julia Perry: www.africandiasporamusicproject.org/julia_perry

Jessie Montgomery: www.jessiemontgomery.com

Quinn Mason: www.masonianmusic.com

William Grant Still: www.africandiasporamusicproject.org/williamgrant_still

David Baker: www.keisersouthernmusic.com/composers/david-baker

Jessica Meyer: www.jessicameyermusic.com/

About Dr. Louise Toppin: Soprano Louise Toppin has received critical acclaim for her operatic, orchestral, and oratorio performances worldwide. She has appeared in recital at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center. In May 2021, she co-curated a festival on Black Music with Thomas Hampson and appeared in concert at the Elbphilharmonie with Hampson, Leah Hawkins, and Larry Brownlee. She has recorded eighteen albums including: Songs of Illumination (Centaur Records), and on Albany Records Ah love, but a day; He’ll Bring it to Pass (Joseph Joubert, piano); and Witness with the Czech National Symphony, and La Saison des fleurs.

As a scholar, she has lectured on the music of African American composers and has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered as well as for many national conventions and on many college campuses. As the co-founder/administrator of the George Shirley Vocal Competition and the non-profit Videmus, she encourages the performance and scholarship of African American compositions by students, teachers, and scholars. She is also the founder of the African Diaspora Music Project, a research tool to locate the repertoire of composers of the African Diaspora from the 1600s to the present.

In 2020-2021, she published eight anthologies including An Anthology of African and African Diaspora Art Songs, Adolphus Hailstork Songs (5 Volumes), and Rediscovering Margaret Bonds with Classical Vocal Reprints and Hildegard Press. In addition to performing, Toppin was the Distinguished University Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Music at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is currently Professor of Music at the University of Michigan, School of Music, Theatre and Dance.

About James Blachly: James Blachly is a Grammy-winning conductor dedicated to enriching the concert experience by connecting with audiences in memorable and meaningful ways. His world premiere recording of English composer Dame Ethel Smyth’s 1930 masterpiece The Prison, released on Chandos Records, won a 2020 Grammy Award and was widely acclaimed.He currently serves as Music Director of Experiential Orchestra and is entering his sixth season as Music Director of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra (PA). and is in increasing demand as a versatile guest conductor in diverse repertoire, with appearances this season with the New York Philharmonic, the music of Arvo Pärt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a residency at Montclair State University. Blachly serves as Associate Editor and Orchestral Liaison for the African Diaspora Music Project, directed by Dr. Louise Toppin.

Blachly’s innovative programming aims to increase audience engagement and empower audiences. With the Johnstown Symphony, he conducted the orchestra in a former steel mill in a concert that was featured on Katie Couric’s America Inside Out, and in three seasons the orchestras has increased season ticket sales by 43%; with the Experiential Orchestra, he has invited audiences to dance to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, sit within the orchestra at Lincoln Center, and engage with Symphonie fantastique and Petrushka with circus choreography in an ongoing collaboration with The Muse in Brooklyn. A strong supporter of composers of our time, Blachly has commissioned and premiered more than 50 works from composers such as Jessie Montgomery, Courtney Bryan, Kirsten Vollness, Viet Cuong, Michi Wiancko, Kate Copeland Ettinger, Patrick Castillo, Brad and Doug Balliett, and many others. In recent seasons, he has collaborated with soloists Julia Bullock, Andrés Cárdenes, Michael Chioldi, Karen Kim, Andrew Yee, Owen Dalby, Janna Baty, and more. Dedicated to finding new ways of empowering audiences, he is also in demand as a speaker on Listening as Leadership, bringing his expertise as a conductor and passion for music to Fortune 500 companies, schools, and other organizations.

About the African Diaspora Music Project: In September 2019, after decades of researching and consolidating vocal works by African Diaspora composers, Dr. Louise Toppin launched the African Diaspora Music Project (ADMP) database, which currently offers nearly 4,000 works for voice and more than 1,200 works for orchestra by composers of African descent.

Trained as an archivist, first by her father and later as a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, Toppin learned the difficulty of locating and bringing together repertoire. Her project began informally while at the University of Michigan while working as a research assistant to music scholars George Shirley and Willis Patterson, and later while organizing the works of Florence Price owned by scholar Ray Linda Brown. As she traveled to the National Association of Negro musicians, the country's oldest Association of Black professional musicians, she had the opportunity to meet and perform with Black composers who freely shared their works with her. Overtime, she amassed one of the largest personal collections of composers of African descent.

Designed as a living and growing database that will strengthen as more works are submitted and discovered, African Diaspora Music Project supports Toppin’s ongoing mission to help bring this music to concert halls around the world. The database is designed with conductors and artistic administrators in mind, making it extremely user-friendly. Users can search by ensemble size and length of work, allowing them to find many pieces for their programming needs, and with perusal PDFs of scores and recordings provided whenever possible. ADMP is a free resource created as a repository for music, providing access to scores, and encouraging research, exploration and performance of new works.

ADMP includes access to works in various languages and from across the globe, such as Pende from the Republic of Congo, French Creole, Portuguese from Brazil, and more. Works span from H.T. Burleigh, the first prominent Black composer in America born at the end of the Civil War to millennial composer Brandon J. Spencer, and from well-known artists to compositions waiting to be fully appreciated and performed. It’s not hyperbolic to note that ADMP may change the very voice of American music as the works of Black composers can now be accessed easily in one user-friendly database.

The Experiential Orchestra was founded by conductor James Blachly as a way to invite audiences more deeply into the sound and powerful experience of the orchestra. Their Grammy-winning world-premiere recording of Dame Ethel Smyth’s The Prison (1930) was critically acclaimed in The New York Times, Gramophone, The New Yorker, The Guardian, and many other publications. The orchestra is drawn from top-level New York freelancers, many of whom are soloists in their own right, or members of other elite ensembles.

In addition to giving its signature concerts at Lincoln Center, it prepares innovative programs which have invited audiences to dance to Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, welcomed them to sit and lie down inside the orchestra itself, surrounded them with thirty-six oboes and bassoons in performances of music by Lully and Rameau, and performed Symphonie fantastique and Petrushka with original circus choreography by The Muse in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Recent concerts have been presented at Roulette and National Sawdust in Brooklyn, Lincoln Center with Young Patrons of Lincoln Center, Americas Society, and in partnership with Musicambia and Groupmuse at the Masonic Temple; concerts have also been presented at Penn State University, American University, and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

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