New Jersey Youth Symphony Presents Works by African American Women Composers, January 26

The New Jersey Youth Symphony (NJYS) presents a concert focused on women composers featuring five ensembles on Sunday, January 26 at 4:00pm at Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium (68 Nassau Street, Princeton). The NJYS Youth Symphony led by Helen H. Cha-Pyo, Youth Orchestra led by Simon Lipskar, Fortissimo Flutes led by Diana Charos-Reilly, and CL4tet and Clarinet Ensemble led by Bryan Rudderow will perform works by Yvonne Desportes and Ann Holler as well as Julia Perry’s Short Piece for Large Orchestra and Florence Price’s Symphony No. 3 in C minor. The concert will also include classical masterworks by Beethoven, Haydn, and Verdi. Tickets are $20/Adults and $15/Seniors & Students available online at www.NJYS.org or by calling 908-771-5544.

Says Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Helen H. Cha-Pyo, “I am thrilled to present works by two important African American women composers, Florence Price (1887-1953) and Julia Perry (1924-1979). These award-winning composers’ works were performed by the Chicago Symphony and New York Philharmonic in the 30’s and 60’s respectively, and they are now regaining the recognition they deserve after a long period of absence from concert halls. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning these scores for the first time, and the Youth Symphony and I are excited to perform their music at our concert in Princeton.”

A native of Kentucky, composer and conductor Julia Perry studied at Westminster Choir College and Juilliard as well as with Luigi Dallapiccola at Tanglewood and in Italy and with Nadia Boulanger in France, winning the Boulanger Grand Prix for her Viola Sonata. Her compositions, often incorporating influences from black spirituals, include a dozen symphonies, two piano concertos, a ballet, and three operas, often writing her own libretto. Most of her works have been sadly neglected, although her Short Piece for Large Orchestra (also known as Study for Orchestra, 1952) was recorded in a live performance by the New York Philharmonic under William Steinberg in 1965. It is described as “an initially raucous, highly energized essay, brilliantly scored with edgy lyrical contrasts, closing in a haunted Lento before a whiplash ending returns the aggressive opening thunder.”

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887, Florence Price received early training on the piano from her mother, a music teacher. She went on to attend the New England Conservatory, one of few higher musical institutions accepting African American students at the time, where she studied composition and counterpoint with George Chadwick and Frederick Converse. She graduated in 1906 with both an artistic diploma in organ and a teaching certificate. After years teaching music privately and serving as the head of the music department at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia, Price returned to Little Rock, then moved to Chicago. Frederick Stock, music director of the Chicago Symphony, became a supporter of her music and subsequently programmed her first symphony. Price became the first African American woman to have a work performed by a major U.S. orchestra when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed it in 1933. Though a prolific composer, she did not gain widespread recognition and many of her works, including two violin concertos, could have vanished if not uncovered during the renovation of her abandoned home. The discovery of dozens of scores in an Illinois attic in 2009 led to renewed interest in her music, including performances and recordings, with critical acclaim. Described as “combining a rich and romantic symphonic idiom with the melodic intimacy and emotional intensity of African American spirituals,” Alex Ross wrote in The New Yorker that her music “deserves to be widely heard.”

The New Jersey Youth Symphony (NJYS), founded in 1979, is a tiered orchestral program offering ensemble education for students in grades 3-12 across New Jersey. NJYS has grown from one orchestra of 65 students to over 500 students in 15 different orchestras and ensembles, including the internationally recognized Youth Symphony. NJYS ensembles have performed in venues including the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Carnegie Hall, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. NJYS has received numerous prestigious awards for its adventurous programming from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and has had six European tours, including participation in the Summa Cum Laude International Youth Festival and Competition (Vienna), winning First Prizes in July 2014 and 2017.