Detroit Symphony Orchestra To Honor George Shirley and Earl Lewis

Mike Lawson • ChoralNews • February 21, 2018

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) will honor tenor and educator George Shirley and leader and academic Earl Lewis, president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, at the 40th annual Classical Roots Concert on March 2 and 3, 2018.

Classical Roots honors African-American composers, musicians, and educators for lifetime achievement and raises funds to support the DSO’s African-American music and musician development programs.

The Classical Roots Celebration, including the 8 p.m. concert and pre- and post-performance receptions, takes place on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center. A concert-only performance is also scheduled for Friday, March 2, 2018 at 10:45 a.m. in Orchestra Hall.

Joseph Young will conduct. The Saturday evening concert will be webcast for free at and via Facebook Live, as part of the DSO’s groundbreaking Live from Orchestra Hall series. The series is presented by Ford Motor Company Fund and made possible by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

As is tradition, this year’s concerts will begin with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as the Black American National Anthem, featuring the 40th Anniversary Celebration Choir. Members of the Brazeal Dennard Chorale will then sing the spiritual “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” before the orchestra performs Johann Strauss’s Overture toDie Fledermaus—in honor of George Shirley, as Die Fledermaus was the first opera he sang professionally. Rounding out the first half of the program is Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 4 with guest horn soloist Joshua Williams, a rising young performer and winner of the 2017 International Horn Competition of America.

The 40th anniversary Classical Roots program culminates with a performance of Undine Smith Moore’s Scenes from the Life of a Martyr, an oratorio written in tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The work will be presented nearly one month prior to the 50th anniversary of the civil rights leader’s assassination on April 4, 1968. The performance will feature the DSO, honoree George Shirley as narrator, the 40th Anniversary Celebration Choir, and vocal soloists Janice Chandler-Eteme (soprano), Olivia Johnson (mezzo-soprano), and Issachah Savage (tenor).

In the weeks preceding Classical Roots, the DSO extends the program’s mission beyond the concert hall, with school visits by musicians and other community events. This includes a free chamber recital on Monday, February 26 at Plymouth United Church of Christ featuring DSO musicians and a performance of GRIME, an original work by the DSO’s Classical Roots African-American Composer in Residence Evan Williams. The Composer in Residence is a new addition for the 40th anniversary year. Learn more at and

Classical Roots is presented by Stanley and Judy Frankel and made possible by J.P. Morgan Chase and the DTE Energy Foundation. This year’s Classical Roots Co-Chairs are Therese Peace Agboh and Janice Cosby.

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