Lincoln Center Hosts The Experiential Orchestra’s JULIA PERRY CENTENARY FESTIVAL FINALE Review — Turbulence

Composer Julia Perry
Soloist Curtis Stewart with The Experiential Orchestra
Soprano Louise Toppin, founder of the African Diaspora Music Project and creator of the festival, performs a Perry song

As if presaging the emotional turbulence given sonic form soon to come, four-time Grammy nominated violinist Curtis Stewart seemed to be summoning his energy from his core. All was quiet in the hall.  It was a dramatic silence.  While Stewart gathered his chi, Experiential Orchestra Founder and Director James Blachly kept his baton at the ready, looking over his shoulder for Stewart’s prelude meditation to end and the music to begin.

From the very first notes we feel long forgotten composer Julia Perry’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra draw attention to an interior life at odds with its surrounds.  Mostly atonal, but never screaming or harsh, Perry’s concerto felt to this reviewer like a walking tour of a recurring dream more bad than good.  Planted in a variant of Warrior stance, Stewart would squeeze his eyes in concentration whenever the orchestra took over, carrying the music to the border of melody, a line that it never quite crosses.  Stewart’s physical person looks strong, and we feel that it takes such muscularity to give Perry’s music its due.

This performance coincided with the release of Stewart and the Experiential Orchestra’s recording of this work, the world’s first.  Perry’s body of work is being showcased by the African Diaspora Music Project, which Blachly helps lead with its founder and lead editor, soprano Louise Toppin.  


James Blachly conducting The Experiential Orchestra perform Julia Perry's CONCERTO FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA

It was Toppin’s performance of Perry’s spiritual-like I’m a Poor Li’l Orphan in this World that added to the unique feel of the concerto that followed. Toppin’s rendition of this sweet and soulful Perry work summoned the kind of calm you feel when you watch a beautiful snowfall from the warmth of inside.  

In the program notes, we read of Perry’s personal struggles with health and money.  We know the racism and segregation of her times  (1924 - 1979). We absorb that Perry’s lived experiences imbued her compositions with  range beyond her European classical training.

Middle and High Schoolers Get Lincoln Center Thrill of a Lifetime

These professional performances by Toppin, Stewart and The Experiential Orchestra were the Act II.  Act I was performed by a Florida Middle School Chorus (C.W. Ricked Middle School Chorus) and a High School Orchestra from Texas (Sandra Day O’Connor High School Orchestra).  In an aside Toppin explains that they are the hoped for next generation ambassadors promoting Perry’s music. Perhaps some day we will read about a famed musician’s first Lincoln Center break in their animated VR hologram bio.

Read more about the African Diaspora Music Project and The Experiential Orchestra. 


Photos: Jeff Nash, courtesy of The Experiential Orchestra

Amy Munice

About the Author: Amy Munice

Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.

Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.


Share this:

Make a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *