Music of Change

Ensemble 20/21 | October 8, 2022 8:00 p.m.

Daring, sultry, and playfully evocative, flutist and composer Valerie Coleman’s musical memoir, Portraits of Josephine, captures the irreverent spirit and joie de vivre of one of the 20th century’s most charismatic entertainers, Josephine Baker. Ensemble 20/21 presents this electrifying suite for wind quintet, featuring three significant moments throughout Baker’s life. From her humble beginnings in St. Louis to creating a multiracial utopia within the majestic walls of her 15th-century château, Les Milandes, and causing a splash on the 1920s Parisian club scene, this captivating portrait chronicles her triumphant rise to international stardom.

Inspired by a Philadelphia Chamber Music Society recital with Philadelphia Orchestra trombonist and Curtis faculty member Nitzan Haroz, composer Philip Maneval’s four-movement brass quintet How We Prevail is a moving meditation on the political turmoil of our time. Trombones, French horn, and tuba unite to produce a rich, sonorous sound reminiscent of a dark and resonant men’s choir. Not only does the work reflect upon our daily struggles, anxiety, and aspirations, but it reminds us of our common civility and the resilience of the human spirit, ever more appropriate as we find peace and purpose during this global pandemic.

Louis Andriessen‘s classic 1975 open-scored work for unspecified (yet loud) group of instruments gives performers specific rhythms to play without precise pitches, melodic lines, or discernable keys. Described by the iconoclastic Dutch composer as a contrast between “individual freedom and severe discipline,” this innovative and raucous piece sounds uniquely different within the hands of each new group performing it. Ensemble 20/21 tackles Andriessen’s aggressive, unrelenting work with its decidedly political subtext. As it progresses, each musician is essential to holding the piece together, and only as they unite as one do they make a successful impact, just like the work’s title.

Highly regarded Jamaican-British composer and pianist Eleanor Alberga’s Sun Warrior was born out of a dream. Commissioned in 1990 by the inaugural Chard Festival of Women in Music, Alberga imagined that instead of sitting at her piano writing notes upon her manuscript paper, she was painting brilliant colors across the staff. This remarkable orchestral work experiments with tonality and rhythm, evoking bright colors throughout three emotionally stirring movements.   

Sun Warrior refers to the inner self, searching for the light. In movement one, “Red Dawn,” the piece bursts to the seams with a stirring of energy that rises, falls, and rises once again. Bold, angular, and chromatic, it features a soaring pentatonic pattern in the wind section with the occasional hint of an African drumming rhythm. The color red is at the center of it all, like blood rushing, pulses pounding, and tension rising to a frenzied, feverish climax.  

The second movement, “Mirrors of Blue,” is lush, cinematic, and meditative. The pentatonic pattern from the first movement now descends as layers of strings are lightly plucked, then serenely entwined with one another. The final movement, “Golden Palace,” is a joyous, celebratory work, a brass and string-saturated fanfare vibrating with life that slowly drifts into a calmer state as if the fiery sun has finally set and the stars have begun to appear one by one. 


VALERIE COLEMAN Portraits of Josephine

I. Ol’ St. Louis
II. Les Milandes
III. Paris 1925

PHILIP MANEVAL How We Prevail

I. With Determination
II. By Singing Through the Noise
III. Through Self-Reflection
IV. With Dark Humor

INTERMISSION
LOUIS ANDRIESSEN Workers Union
ALBERGA Sun Warrior

I. Red Dawn
II. Mirrors of Blue
III. Golden Palace

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  • Ensemble 20/21’s repertoire features works from the 20th and 21st centuries. With bold collaborations and striking productions, Ensemble 20/21 embraces the cutting edge of contemporary classical music through the highest level of artistry.

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