DSO to Celebrate 43rd Annual ‘Classical Roots’ Concert and Celebration

Mike Lawson • ChoralNews • January 28, 2021

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The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) will honor Vera Heidelberg and Wynton Marsalis for their legacies, as well as pay special tribute to the late Detroit community leader, entrepreneur, and business strategist Marlowe Stoudamire, at the 43rd annual Arthur L. Johnson-Honorable Damon Jerome Keith Classical Roots Celebration.

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

This year’s Classical Roots concert will be streamed live from Orchestra Hall via DSO Digital Concerts on Saturday, March 6, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. The DSO will perform with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet with Wynton Marsalis and special guest soloist Anthony McGill (Principal Clarinet of the New York Philharmonic), conducted by William Eddins. The Brazeal Dennard Chorale—a vital part of Classical Roots since its inception—and Artistic Director Alice McAllister Tillman will also be featured.

The concert program includes Marsalis’s Meeelaan, Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto for Clarinet and Jazz Band, and Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs, with McGill as featured soloist in the Stravinsky and Bernstein works. The concert will be the culminating event of a weeklong DSO residency by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet, which will include educational activities with the DSO’s Civic Youth Ensembles, a recorded performance for the DSO’s Educational Concert Series to be streamed later, and their own DSO Digital Concert with Marsalis on Friday, March 5 at 8 p.m. as part of the DSO’s Paradise Jazz Series.

The first Classical Roots concert took place in 1978 at Detroit’s historic Bethel AME Church. Co-founded by the DSO’s then-Resident Conductor Paul Freeman, arts patron and civil rights activist Arthur L. Johnson, choral director and artistic administrator Brazeal Dennard, and other prominent African American leaders, Classical Roots soon outgrew Bethel AME and moved to Orchestra Hall in 1981, where it has been a beloved annual tradition ever since. The gala Classical Roots Celebration and lifetime achievement component were added in 2001. The Celebration was named the Arthur L. Johnson – Honorable Damon Jerome Keith Classical Roots Celebration in 2019 following a generous endowment gift from Dr. William F. Pickard who counted Johnson and Keith as his two biggest mentors.

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