Review: Philadelphia Orchestra premiere of Coleman’s “Umoja, Anthem for Unity”

Posted on: September 24, 2019

“The Philadelphia Orchestra’s program note Thursday night said the concert marked the first time the orchestra had played a work by Valerie Coleman, and that her piece was an orchestra commission and world premiere,” writes Peter Dobrin in Saturday’s (9/21) Philadelphia Inquirer. “The greater significance behind the debut of Coleman’s Umoja, Anthem for Unity, though, is this: It was the first time the Philadelphia Orchestra had ever performed a classical work by a living African American female composer…. Let’s start off by calling Umoja, Anthem for Unity exactly what it is apart from the question of who wrote it. It’s a terrific work. The piece—umoja means unity in Swahili—arcs from serene peace to racing tension before emerging in sunlit joy. That’s a lot in 10 or so minutes. Coleman’s … new work is a powerhouse of emotional directness and bold orchestration. As for the who behind the piece, it does matter…. Coleman’s identity is an important factor to many, but especially to children all over who may never have thought this world was open to them—as composers and listeners.… [The work] opens with the promise of spring, like a beginning. Let’s hope it is.”

Posted September 24, 2019