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National Philharmonic presents 'Phenomenal Women' and Dvorák's Symphony No. 7

January 22, 2024 | By Camille Cintrón Devlin
PR & Communications Consultant

Conducted by Jeri Lynne Johnson

Featuring composer and flutist Valerie Coleman as soloist, alongside an all-star wind quintet

February 10 at Strathmore


(NORTH BETHESDA, MD) — National Philharmonic (NatPhil) presents guest conductor Jeri Lynne Johnson in her debut with the Orchestra on Saturday, February 10 at 7:30 p.m. at The Music Center at Strathmore. Johnson leads a classical program that includes Valerie Coleman’s Phenomenal Women: Concerto for Wind Quintet Soli and Chamber Orchestra—with the composer herself as one of five wind soloists—and Antonín Dvorák’s Symphony No. 7. Tickets are currently on sale at nationalphilharmonic.org.

“From the Philadelphia Orchestra to the Bournemouth Symphony to the Weimar Staatskapelle, Jeri Lynne Johnson has conducted some of the finest orchestras in the world,” stated NatPhil Music Director Piotr Gajewski. “As a Black woman, she brings a unique perspective to the music of Black composers, making her the perfect choice to introduce our audience to Valerie Coleman’s Phenomenal Women. We’re thrilled to have her work with us for the first time by curating and leading this program.”

With this NatPhil appearance, Jeri Lynne Johnson returns to the D.C. area for the first time since conducting Pulitzer Prize-winner Tania León’s Stride as part of the composer’s Kennedy Center Honors tribute in 2022. Johnson, lauded by the Los Angeles Times as “a stunning, rhythmically vital conductor,” made history in 2005 when she was awarded the Taki Alsop Conducting Fellowship, becoming the first Black woman to win an international conducting prize. Since then, she has continued to break barriers in the United States and Europe as the first Black woman on the podium at numerous major orchestras. She is also founder of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra in Philadelphia, which has been internationally recognized as a leading innovator in meaningful community engagement.

Drawing its title from Maya Angelou’s 1995 book, Valerie Coleman’s Phenomenal Women comprises five movements, each dedicated to a woman Coleman finds particularly inspiring: Angelou herself, NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, tennis champion Serena Williams, former First Lady Michelle Obama, and Olympic gold medal-winning boxer Claressa Shields. Coleman writes: “Each movement contains an overview of pivotal moments and characteristics found within the lives of each ‘shero,’ that serve as catalysts from which main movements emerge and develop.” In addition to these five musical portraits, the central movement of the concerto is dedicated to mothers in the caravan of migrants headed to the United States, fighting to reclaim their children.

Phenomenal Women was premiered on November 2, 2018 at Carnegie Hall, performed by American Composers Orchestra with Imani Winds as solo wind quintet, after which The New York Times praised the work’s “memorable freshness and color.” The world premiere was followed by an Orpheus Chamber Orchestra performance in 2019 at the Library of Congress. For the February 10 performance at Strathmore, NatPhil and Coleman (flute) are joined by wind soloists Mariam Adam (clarinet), Alexander Davis (bassoon), Katherine Needleman (oboe), and Priscilla Rinehart (French horn).

Closing the program is Antonín Dvorák’s Symphony No. 7, one of the composer’s most popular symphonies, and one of his most dramatic and emotional works. The symphony was commissioned by the Philharmonic Society in London—the same orchestra for which Beethoven had written his Symphony No. 9—and Dvorák was aware of the distinction and renown this commission could potentially bring. Accordingly, he did his utmost to create a symphony that would surpass all his previous works, writing that the Seventh Symphony “must be capable of stirring the world, and may God grant that it will!” He was undoubtedly successful; the influential 20th-century music critic Donald Francis Tovey wrote of the symphony: “I have no hesitation in setting Dvorák’s Seventh Symphony…as among the greatest and purest examples in this art-form since Beethoven.”

Johnson said, “I am excited to be making my National Philharmonic debut with this amazing piece by Valerie Coleman! I have been a fan of her work for many years and am looking forward to performing this impressive work for the audiences at the equally impressive Music Center at Strathmore. Part of what will make this such a unique experience for the audience and the Orchestra will be having the composer not just in attendance, but on stage as one of the soloists. Ending the concert with one of the most dramatic and exciting works in the orchestral literature (and one of my personal favorites!)—Dvorák’s Symphony No. 7—will leave audiences breathless and inspired!”

Full Concert Details:

Saturday, February 10, 2024 at 7:30 p.m. at The Music Center at Strathmore
Dvorák Symphony No. 7
Jeri Lynne Johnson, conductor
Mariam Adam, clarinet
Valerie Coleman, flute
Alexander Davis, bassoon
Katherine Needleman, oboe
Priscilla Rinehart, horn

National Philharmonic joins forces with dynamic guest conductor Jeri Lynne Johnson for Valerie Coleman’s Phenomenal Women and Dvorák’s Symphony No. 7. Phenomenal Women draws inspiration from Maya Angelou’s poem and book of the same name, and celebrates five phenomenal women—Angelou, mathematician Katherine Johnson, tennis great Serena Williams, Olympic boxer Claressa Shields, and former first lady Michelle Obama—telling each of their stories through jazz, classical, and traditional music styles. Coleman, a Grammy-nominated flutist and founder of Imani Winds, will play with a wind quintet assembled for the performance.

Hailed as one of Dvorák’s most significant works, Symphony No. 7 is a musical journey of epic proportions. From the majestic first movement to the triumphant climax of the finale, Dvorák weaves rich harmonies, playful rhythms, and elements of Czech folk music throughout. Brought to life under the baton of Jeri Lynne Johnson, conductor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Stride” as part of the 2022 Kennedy Center Honors and founder of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, this program is not to be missed.

Valerie Coleman, Phenomenal Women: Concerto for Wind Quintet Soli and Chamber Orchestra
Antonín Dvorák, Symphony No. 7 in D minor

Ticket Information
Tickets ($19–$99) are available online at nationalphilharmonic.org. Kids 17 and under can attend National Philharmonic performances for free through the All Kids. All Free. All the Time. initiative.

About the Guest Artists
Jeri Lynne Johnson, conductor
Valerie Coleman, composer and flute
Mariam Adam, clarinet
Alexander Davis, bassoon
Katherine Needleman, oboe
Priscilla Rinehart, French horn

About the National Philharmonic
Celebrated for showcasing world-renowned guest artists in time-honored symphonic masterpieces, National Philharmonic continuously strives to create remarkable educational opportunities in the community while promoting diversity and representation in classical music.

National Philharmonic is an accessible, enriching component in the Greater Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area, believing that music has the power to spark imagination and shape the world around us. As the only organization with a united orchestra and chorus in the region, over the years National Philharmonic has expanded its footprint beyond its home at Strathmore, with year-round masterclasses along with Summer String and Summer Chorale Institutes for youth, armed services programs, and partnerships with community organizations. In addition to these programs, National Philharmonic fosters a love of music in young people across the region by offering free admission to all children between the ages 7 to 17 years old. 

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