The Orchestra Swings
About the Composers
Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990), a celebrated American composer and conductor, began playing piano at an early age when his aunt gave him her upright piano. During his childhood in Massachusetts, he continued his piano studies and went on to study music at Harvard University and the Curtis Institute of Music. From the time Bernstein started a jazz band as a teenager, jazz had a vibrant influence on his music. At age 25, he made his conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. He earned special acclaim for his Young People’s Concerts, which were broadcast to television viewers around the country. Fun fact: The first of these televised concerts was recorded live at Carnegie Hall! Bernstein’s compositions span orchestral music, chamber music, opera, and musical theater. He was also a generous humanitarian, who believed that artists would help create a more peaceful world.
Concert Repertoire: “Riffs” from Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs
Courtney Bryan (b. 1982) is “a pianist and composer of panoramic interests” (The New York Times). Her music is in conversation with various genres that include jazz and other types of experimental music, as well as traditional gospel, spirituals, and hymns. Bryan holds degrees from Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Rutgers University, and Columbia University, where she worked with George Lewis. She also completed postdoctoral studies in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. Bryan is currently an assistant professor of music in the Newcomb Department of Music at Tulane University; the work has been presented in a wide range of venues and her recordings include Quest for Freedom and This Little Light of Mine. Bryan is a recipient of the 2019 Rome Prize and the 2018 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts.
Concert Repertoire: “Do Your Thing”
Thomas Cabaniss (b. 1962) is a composer and educator born in Charleston, South Carolina. Residing in New York City, Cabaniss teaches at The Juilliard School and leads arts education programs throughout the city. His music ranges from chamber music to operas and film scores. He is a creative adviser for Carnegie Hall’s Link Up program, and helped launch Carnegie Hall’s Lullaby Project, which helps pregnant women, new mothers, and their families write songs for their children. Cabaniss uses his music to encourage collaboration and help institutions support partnerships between artists and communities.
Concert Repertoire: “Come to Play”
Duke Ellington (1899–1974) is considered one of the most important figures in jazz history. Born in Washington, DC, he began studying classical piano when he was around eight years old. As a teenager, Ellington became interested in ragtime and jazz and began playing in dance bands at clubs and parties. The young Edward—Ellington’s real first name—had an elegant sense of style, which earned him the nickname “Duke” from his friends. He moved to New York City as a young man and began his career as a bandleader and composer. Ellington was hired to lead the house band at the Cotton Club, a famous jazz club in Harlem. He went on to form the Duke Ellington Orchestra—which became known all over the country thanks to radio broadcasts and popular recordings—and toured the world for more than 50 years. Over the course of his long career, Ellington collaborated with many other jazz greats, including Billy Strayhorn and Ella Fitzgerald, and wrote nearly 2,000 compositions.
Concert Repertoire: “Duke’s Place” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”
George Gershwin (1898–1937) is one of the most recognized American composers of the 20th century. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he exhibited his musical talent at a young age, first learning melodies on a neighbor’s player piano and then beginning his studies on an upright piano that his parents purchased for his older brother, Ira, who was an acclaimed lyricist. Gershwin began his professional music career in Tin Pan Alley as a “song plugger,” playing the piano to help publishing houses advertise and sell new music, and later playing as a rehearsal pianist for musical theater. Gershwin and his brother formed a legendary partnership, creating many notable works that include the opera Porgy and Bess. Gershwin’s compositions include both popular and classical styles, as well as works for solo piano, orchestra, musical theater, opera, and film.
Concert Repertoire: “I Got Rhythm”
Florence Price (1887–1953) was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. A gifted musician who began studying piano at age four, Price was exposed to the music of Bach and Mendelssohn as a child, and her parents frequently hosted leading figures of the Black intelligentsia, including W. E. B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass. By age 14, Price had enrolled at New England Conservatory, where she earned degrees in both piano and organ performance. Price relocated to Chicago in 1926 and started to gain national and international recognition for her music. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s premiere of her Symphony in E Minor was the first performance by a major US orchestra of a symphony composed by a Black woman. Price composed more than 300 works, and her musical language synthesizes European traditions with elements of Black spirituals and other folk traditions.
Concert Repertoire: “Juba” from Symphony No. 1