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Thomas Wilkins conducts Hailstork, Sierra, Price and Ellington with saxophonist James Carter

Thomas Wilkins conducts Hailstork, Sierra, Price and Ellington with saxophonist James Carter

Boston Symphony Orchestra

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Thomas Wilkins, the BSO's Germeshausen Youth and Family Concerts Conductor, makes his subscription series debut with this concert, which features music of three African-American composers along with the Puerto Rico-born Robert Sierra. Sierra wrote his Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra for eminent jazz saxophonist James Carter, including opportunities for improvisation within his dynamic and soulful score. Also in the jazz spectrum is Duke Ellington's lush, impressionistic tone poem A Tone Parallel to Harlem. Florence Price graduated from Boston's New England Conservatory in 1906 as a pianist and organist; she also studied composition there. She wrote her Third Symphony in 1940 on a commission from the WPA; Thomas Wilkins has arranged sections of the four-movement work into a tone poem he calls "Symphonic Reflections." The brash, optimistic concert-opener An American Port of Call was written in 1985 for the Virginia Symphony Orchestra by Adolphus Hailstork, inspired by his bustling home city of Norfolk, VA, where he is a professor at Old Dominion University.

Featured Performers

Thomas Wilkins, conductor
Thomas Wilkins, conductor View biography in full page >

Music director of the Omaha Symphony since 2005, Thomas Wilkins is also principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Indiana University’s Henry A. Upper Chair of Orchestral Conducting, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Artistic Advisor, Education and Community Engagement, holding the orchestra’s Germeshausen Youth and Family Concerts Conductor Chair.

Thomas Wilkins, conductor James Carter, saxophones
James Carter, saxophones View biography in full page >

“You have to be totally comfortable wherever,” Carter says. “I feel that music equals life, that’s the way my teacher always taught me. You just can’t go through life and experience it fully with a set of blinders on. I think there’s tremendous beauty in cross-pollinations of music and influences.” 

In many ways, weaving together divergent impulses is at the heart of Carter’s music. Like the late tenor sax titan Ben Webster, he’s given to furious, high-velocity solos, but is just as likely to wax sentimental, using his big, bruising tone to tenderly caress a comely melody. In 2000, he released two albums simultaneously that amounted to an anti-manifesto, a proclamation that everything is fair game.

On Chasin’ the Gypsy, a voluptuous, lyrical session partly inspired by the timeless collaboration between Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, he assembled a thrilling group with violinist Regina Carter and Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, for a project born out of some sound check jamming with Lubambo and Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista during a tour with Kathleen Battle. The groove-laden Layin’ in the Cut, featuring James Blood Ulmer’s former rhythm section with electric bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer Grant Calvin Weston, combines harmolodic freedom with a deep reservoir of funk, and developed out of a project inspired by another legendary guitarist, Jimi Hendrix.

He reinvented the organ combo (with 2005’s Out of Nowhere and again in 2009 with John Medeski on Heaven and Earth), explored the music of alt-rock band Pavement (on 2005’s Gold Sounds), and paid loving tribute to Billie Holiday (on 2003’s Gardenias for Lady Day). Taken in context, Carter’s creative rendezvous with composer, Roberto Sierra, with the Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra made perfect sense.

Now Carter presents us with James Carter’s Elektrik Outlet, a new configuration within which he has found a new groove to explore. Shifting his sax into a keen array of electronics and pedals just might be the perfect “outlet” for Carter to tap into that “frustrated guitarist” that he often describes himself to be. An excellent selection of tunes from Eddie Harris, Gene Ammons, Al Jarreau, Stevie Wonder, Minnie Ripperton and others provides impetus for Carter’s Elektrik Outlet to sizzle, slide, and pop. Adding energy to the group are fellow Detroit artists, Gerard Gibbs on electronic keyboards, Ralphe Armstrong on electric bass and Alex White on drums.

James Carter, saxophones
Program Notes Audio
Adolphus HAILSTORK - An American Port of Call
Roberto SIERRA - Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra
PRICE - “Symphonic Reflections” from Symphony No. 3
ELLINGTON - A Tone Parallel to Harlem (Harlem Suite)
Audio Concert Preview - Full Program Notes
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