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Experiential Orchestra (EXO) presents A Dawson Celebration

Experiential Orchestra (EXO) presents A Dawson Celebration

James Blachly, EXO Music Director

An immersive performance of William Levi Dawson’s symphonic masterpiece from 1934 and

Jessie Montgomery’s powerful work Soul Force from 2015

Audience invited to sit among the orchestra members

Friday, May 13, 2022 at 8pm

The DiMenna Center for Classical Music | 450 West 37th Street | New York, NY Tickets: $20-75 at

Experiential Orchestra (EXO), led by Music Director James Blachly, will present an immersive performance of William Levi Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony on Friday, May 13, 2022 at 8pm at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music (450 W. 37th St., NYC). In EXO’s signature fashion, the audience will have the unique opportunity to experience this piece, rapidly being acknowledged as one of America's greatest symphonies, musically as well as physically, sitting near or even inside the orchestra and exploring the musical themes in DiMenna’s beautiful performance hall. The concert, which will be the first time the full EXO orchestra has gathered since the start of the pandemic, will pair the Dawson with Soul Force by Jessie Montgomery, premiered with Blachly conducting in 2015 as a part of The Dream Unfinished’s inaugural season.

“William Levi Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony, after decades of neglect, is beginning to be recognized across the country as one of the truly great American symphonies. The evening will be a combination celebration for our Grammy Award for our recording of Dame Ethel Smyth’s The Prison, and an immersive concert, exploring this American masterpiece,” says EXO Music Director James Blachly. “We have fallen in love with this music, and we are excited to celebrate this piece with our audience.”

The Dawson symphony was also the centerpiece of Blachly’s week-long residency at Montclair State University in March 2022 featuring the music of Jessie Montgomery. He adds, “We anticipate that the piece will be brand new to many in the audience, but with orchestras increasingly recognizing the brilliance of the music, this is a chance for music lovers to get to know the piece in a welcoming, fully-immersive experience. Musically, the Dawson symphony and Jessie Montgomery’s Soul Force create a powerful dialogue.”

William Levi Dawson is best known for his work at the Tuskegee Institute, where he founded and conducted the Tuskegee Institute Choir from 1931-1956, and for his settings of spirituals for solo voice and choir. It was while on tour with Tuskegee that he first showed the score of his symphony to Leopold Stokowski, who would premiere the work with the Philadelphia Orchestra, perform it in Carnegie Hall in a performance broadcast nationally, and eventually, in 1963, record the revised work.

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