“What I like best,” said Pooh… and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.
A.A. Milne The House on Pooh Corner
I think the word is “frisson.” A shudder anticipating the experience of something wonderful. For the Akron Symphony, announcing a new season is such a moment.
Next season’s programs are the most inclusive, far-reaching, and thought-provoking we’ve ever produced. I want to thank our audacious Artistic Advisory Committee—my colleagues on the orchestra, staff, and board, and Board Chair Kathy Booth—for the innumerable hours they have invested in planning these concerts, which so compellingly advance our vision and values.
The 2022–23 line-up is a smorgasbord of musical styles. By broadening the usual orchestral palette, these programs offer a greater range of expression, more opportunities for storytelling, and a heightened sense of discovery. A telling irony is that much of the aesthetic diversity comes from a single country: America. Several works examine the idea of Americanness through the contrasting perspectives of their composers.
Some of the American pieces ought to be included in the “orchestral canon,” but aren’t: music by Ellington, Price, Bonds, Still, and Perry. We offer them alongside generous offerings from the undeniable greats: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Copland, Gershwin, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler—his epic Third Symphony! But judge for yourself… shouldn’t we expand what we consider to be “standard rep”?
A few statistics help tell the story: our seven-concert series comprises twenty-seven works. 59% are by American composers—this in itself is a rarity among American orchestras; 52% by composers of color; and 33% by Black Americans. Seven works are by living composers, almost all of whom plan to come to Akron for our performances.
Of particular interest is the November appearance of Dr. Louise Toppin, Professor of Music at the University of Michigan. Dr. Toppin was born in Akron. Her father was the first Black professor hired by the University of Akron. As a scholar of social history and civil rights, Dr. Edgar Allan Toppin Sr. was charged with helping to integrate all facets of University life. His daughter, Louise Toppin, is a lyric soprano who has performed with major orchestras all across the globe. She is among the world’s leading experts in the music of the African diaspora, and serves as Artistic Director of Videmus, a non-profit organization devoted to the promotion of music by Black composers and underrepresented groups. With the ASO, she performs music by Margaret Bonds—Louise played a central role in the recent Bonds revival—and Akron’s Julia Perry.
Other works in 2022–23 explore non-American traditions, and cultures not associated with the standard orchestral literature. As an example, Global Circus—engaging Akron’s refugee communities—features music by Syrian American composer Kareem Roustom, Afghan composer Milad Yousufi, Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera, and music for a film created in a Syrian refugee camp on the Turkish border by Iranian American composer Sahba Aminikia.
A word about “cultural appropriation,” that is, the borrowing of one tradition by a composer from another, usually “dominant,” culture. It’s a defamatory term, suggesting that the usage is unwelcome, inauthentic, or dishonest. We have spent considerable time discussing this issue, and developing guidelines for approaching it.
Virtually all composers engage in cultural borrowing; it’s a perfectly natural thing. They hear something they’re drawn to, and next thing they know some aspect of it shows up in their work. Examples abound, including from recent ASO performances: West Side Story, Porgy and Bess, Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and The Akron Nutcracker. Trouble arrives when the borrowing is unacknowledged, the source material is inappropriately represented, or when someone else’s story is being told without their consent.
We have decided to keep in mind the following principles in considering whether and how to perform such works:
Candor. Acknowledge the source. If a creator wants to tell someone else’s story, begin by being honest about whose story it is.
Context. Create cultural and historical awareness around the work. All music has roots, talk about where it came from, who developed the tradition, what the social framework is.
Credit. Give credit to the original creators and performers. If possible, invite them to participate, present, and perform.
Collaborate. Work with individuals and organizations who know best how to present their own cultural traditions with authenticity.
Communicate. Get the word out. Invite open dialogue. There is always a risk of controversy, but along with the debate may come rich opportunities for growth.
So here it is, the 2022–23 season. We can’t wait. We are like Winnie the Pooh peering into the Hunny Pot.
September 24 at 7:30 pm
John Gruber, trombone
Aaron Copland Fanfare for the Common Man
Florence Price Andante moderato
Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate Moccasin Game
William Grant Still Symphony No. 2 “Song of a New Race”
George Walker Trombone Concerto
George Gershwin An American in Paris
October 15 at 7:30 pm
with projections of works by Norman Rockwell and original animations by Amber Kempthorn*
Stella Sung Rockwell Reflections
Benjamin Britten Peter Grimes: Four Sea Interludes
Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 6 “Pastorale”
* Knight Arts Challenge Winner
November 12 at 7:30 pm
Ellington’s Nutcracker & The Ballad of the Brown King
Louise Toppin, soprano
Akron Symphony Chorus
Members of Gospel Meets Symphony Choir
Ottorino Respighi Ancient Airs and Dances No. 2
Margaret Bonds The Ballad of the Brown King (A Christmas Cantata)
Julia Perry Fragments from the Letters of Saint Catherine
Duke Ellington Nutcracker Suite (after Tchaikovsky)
December 9 at 7:30 pm
Home for the Holidays
January 14 at 7:30 pm
For Justice and Peace
Eunice Kim, violin
Xavier Foley, double bass
Members of the Gospel Meets Symphony Choir
S. Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 3
Julia Perry Pastoral
Xavier Foley Double Concerto “For Justice and Peace”
Giovanni Bottesini Double Bass Concerto No. 2
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings
February 11 at 7:30 pm
Gospel Meets Symphony
February 25 at 7:30 pm
Featuring Syrian refugees of the Sirkhane Social Circus School in a film by Pinar Demiral and projected artwork by Milad Yousufi
Wolfgang Amadè Mozart Turkish March
Kareem Roustom Dabke
Georges Bizet L’Arlésienne (excerpts from the original version)
Milad Yousufi Freedom
Sahba Aminikia Circus Play
Alberto Ginastera Variaciones concertantes
April 15 at 7:30 pm
Women of the Akron Symphony Chorus
Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 3
May 13 at 7:30 pm
Akron Symphony Chorus
Brian Keith Johnson, baritone
Timothy Adams Harriet Tubman & The Underground Railroad*
* a premiere performance (commissioning consortium)
Johannes Brahms A German Requiem