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Boston Landmarks Orchestra celebrates Black women composers

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Boston  Landmarks Orchestra  celebrates  Black  women  composers
Boston Landmarks Orchestra in concert at the Hatch Shell. PHOTO: MICHAEL DWYER

As part of their free summer concert series, Boston Landmarks Orchestra will celebrate the rich musical history of Black women in “SEEN/UNSEEN: The Symphonic Legacy of Black American Women.” The concert combines the desire to create accessible music opportunities for the local community and also to highlight the often-neglected history of women of color in the orchestral music industry.

Terri Lyne Carrington PHOTO: MICHAEL GOLDMAN

Conducted by Christopher Wilkins and featuring guest artist, co-curator and Grammy® Award-winning artist Terri Lyne Carrington, the concert will feature works by Shirley Graham, Florence Price, Undine Smith Moore, Mary Lou Williams, Nkeiru Okoye, Valerie Coleman, Courtney Bryan and Carrington. The artists represent a wide range of genres and time periods, illustrating the pervasive talent of Black female composers throughout history.

“We’ve been working with composers that don’t normally make it onto the concert stage for years,” says Wilkins. “If you take the first several 1000 works, even 10,000 works, that orchestras typically play, none of them are by women. But also, none of them are by composers of color.”

Boston Landmarks Orchestra in concert at the Hatch Shell. PHOTO: MICHAEL DWYER

“SEEN/UNSEEN” debuts on July 26 at 7 p.m. at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade, coinciding with the NAACP conference in Boston, and will reveal just how much talent has historically been left off classical music stages. The concert is completely free and open to the public and is named for an eponymous composition by Carrington, which will be performed during the show.

“People don’t always ‘see’ or understand the extra burdens [Black women] face just for entering the world in these bodies,” says Carrington. “The extra burdens are tiresome, but we also have a rich and unique legacy that we uphold and further define. The piece is inspired by dreams of freedom, peace, acknowledgment, rest and fulfillment.”

In addition to the Esplanade, the Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s summer concert series has a particular focus on performing in Dorchester, Roxbury, Hyde Square and Chelsea. Performing free concerts within communities is meant to break down the barriers of cost and distance that make orchestral music unapproachable.

Mary Lou Williams PHOTO: W.P. GOTTLIEB, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Wilkins also notes that although the right composers weren’t always gracing symphony stages, music is a universal language and can be played by anyone. These compositions in particular will feel familiar to listeners even if they’re new to classical music.

“Most of this music is rooted in popular culture, dance, music, jazz, spirituals, popular song,” says Wilkins. “And that makes it extremely likeable from the get go. You know, it’s music that people can love on first hearing.”

Black female composers, Hatch Shell, Landmarks Orchestra, women musicians