Review: Philadelphia Orchestra premieres work honoring astronaut Guion Bluford Jr.

Posted on: July 28, 2017

“From Richard Strauss to Haydn, John Williams to Puccini, and with a stop at a lovely new commission, Tuesday night’s Philadelphia Orchestra concert moved fast. But then again, space travel is like that,” writes Peter Dobrin in Thursday’s (7/27) Philadelphia Inquirer. “The concert, dubbed A Space Odyssey, was this summer’s centerpiece artistic statement at the Mann Center. Composer Nolan Williams Jr. was commissioned by the Mann to write a new piece honoring astronaut Guion Bluford Jr., Philadelphia-born and the first African American in space…. Footage from Bluford’s Space Shuttle missions reminded us of the feats of science and technology in space…. Williams, who’s also the Mann festival’s artistic director, surrounded his new song cycle with orchestral works all led by conductor Cristian Macelaru that referenced, to one extent or another, some celestial element…. Nolan Williams Jr. had big forces at his disposal for Hold Fast to Dreams: the Mann Festival Choir … soprano Leah Hawkins and bass-baritone Frank B. Mitchell 3d plus the clarion narration of Franklin Institute astronomer Derrick Pitts…. Williams has a musical language all his own. It brims with vernacular American optimism.”

Posted July 28, 2017

In photo: Astronaut Guion Bluford Jr. (second from left) onstage at the Mann Center, in front of Philadelphia Orchestra musicians, at the debut of Hold Fast to Dreams by Nolan Williams Jr. (left). Photo by Jordan August.
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