DSO salutes black music, musicians ‘Classical Roots’

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Crowning this weekend’s Classical Roots Concerts at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will be a 150-voice choir performance of “Scenes from the Life of a Martyr,” just one month short of the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

French-horn phenom Joshua Williams will be the guest artist at the DSO’s Classical Roots celebration.

In addition to Undine Smith Moore’s “Martyr,” the DSO’s 40th-anniversary salute to African-American music and musicians will include “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” often dubbed the black national anthem, “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” the overture to Die Fledermaus, and Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 4 starring the young phenom Joshua Williams.

The program’s conductor will be Joseph Young from the Peabody Institute conservatory at Johns Hopkins University.

Lifetime achievement awards this year honor famed educator and tenor George Shirley, as well as Mellon Foundation President Earl Lewis, formerly dean at the University of Michigan’s Rackham School of Graduate Studies.

Concert vocal soloists include soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme, mezzo-soprano Olivia Johnson and tenor Issachah Savage. Backing them up will be the 40th Anniversary Celebration Choir, comprised of singers from the Brazeal Dennard Chorale, Wayne State University, the Detroit School of the Arts, and the Detroit Choral Society.

Playing the French horn in the Mozart concerto will be Williams, a University of Alabama doctoral candidate who won last year’s International Horn Competition of America.

The 25-year-old said the concerto holds special meaning for him.

“It’s the piece I performed in the first round of the International Horn Competition this past September,” Williams said, “so I’ve spent a lot of time on it. Now it’s sort of nice to be able to perform it for fun.”

Bassoonist Alexander Davis is a DSO African-American Fellow and will perform at Classical Roots.

DSO African-American Orchestral Fellow Alexander Davis, who did post-graduate work at the Manhattan School of Music, said he always looks forward to Classical Roots, but is particularly pleased with this year’s program.

“It’s a nice balance of everything,” said the 27-year-old bassoonist, “not too new, not too old. But what I look forward to most,” Davis added, “is meeting everyone who comes to this concert — because it always brings in a new, eclectic audience.”


(313) 222-6021

Last year’s Classical Roots featured the world premiere of Terence Blanchard’s “Detroit 67.”

40th Annual

Classical Roots


10:45 a.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday

Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward, Detroit

Tickets: $10 (concert only); $500 (includes Saturday pre-concert reception, strolling dinner & afterglow)

(313) 576-5111