Stay in the Loop
BSR publishes on a weekly schedule, with an email newsletter every Wednesday and Thursday morning. There’s no paywall, and subscribing is always free.
An “offhand comment” by Nicole Jordan, principal librarian of Philadelphia Orchestra, to its music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin led to a Grammy-winning recording of music composed by a Black woman whose work had been washed into obscurity.
Florence Price (1887-1953) studied at the New England Conservatory of music, and the Chicago Symphony performed her first symphony in 1933. Price was also a single parent and a teacher who played the organ and wrote radio jingles to help pay the bills. She wrote 300 works, but her music was largely excluded from history until manuscripts were found in the attic of her summer home. A few years ago, Jordan learned Price's works were available for recording.
“It literally was an idea born out of an initial look into her work,” said Jordan, the orchestra's first full-time Black librarian. “We had performed her symphony number one on our digital stage,” a real-time performance premiere with extended access for on-demand viewing. “It was our first time performing that work in its entirety and there were just a lot of issues with the parts.”
“In trying to prepare my music director for what to expect because of this, I did a bunch of research along with Lina Gonzalez-Granados, a conducting fellow with the orchestra, to see where we were specifically with those parts, and what we can solve in that moment, and took those ideas to Yannik, and in a very offhand comment where I said, 'If we ever record her works, we're going to need to do a top-to-bottom investigation into the music in getting all the parts right,' to make sure we were presenting her work in the best light.”
“Yannick thought it was a great idea,” she said. The orchestra recorded Price's “Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3,” winning the Grammy for best classical recording in April 2022.
What makes Price's music distinct, says Jordan, is “her unique voice and her lived experience. She had the fundamentals of classical training; however, she is also a Black woman, so she brings a different set of lived experiences—a different set of voices to her music in that she was heavily influenced by Negro spirituals, [and] church music. She blends these multiple genres and ideas together in something extremely cohesive and interesting.”
Jordan added, “It's important to use our platform to help shine a light on underrepresented composers who never had this opportunity in their lifetimes, even past their lifetimes, and so to see a really just homegrown type of project with that level of enthusiasm and doing it for the right reasons and to have it rewarded with a Grammy was the cherry on top of the cake.”
What, When, Where
Women in History: Who Is Florence Price? Conducted by Philadelphia Orchestra and Special Music School at Kaufman Music Center, led by Lina Gonzalez-Granados. Florence Price; piano. Free. Saturday, March 25, 2023, at Verizon Hall at Kimmel Cultural Campus, 300 S Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 893-1999 or philorch.org.
Accessible seating is available throughout Verizon Hall. The Kimmel Cultural Campus is wheelchair accessible from the entrances on Broad Street and Spruce Street. All restrooms on all levels are accessible.
Masks are optional. Proof of vaccination is not required.
Sign up for our newsletter
All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.