(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — This weekend, the Erie Philharmonic will perform the world premiere of “Harriet: Journey to Freedom.”
The performance begins at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 14, at Warner Theater, 811 State St. in Erie.
The local symphony commissioned the work from composer Timothy Adams. Conversations between Adams and Erie Philharmonic Director Daniel Meyer began back in April 2020. Adams and Meyer already knew each other from their work together at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
“Adams wanted to write a piece that was relevant to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and all the strife that was happening during the beginning of COVID,” said Steve Weiser, executive director of Erie Philharmonic. “He wanted to find something that told a story of hope and inspiration, and that’s how he ended up on the story of Harriet Tubman.”
Tubman was an abolitionist who is remembered for her work to build the “underground railroad” that led slaves to freedom.
What the audience will experience is beyond a typical philharmonic performance, Weiser noted. Chains and railroad sounds are prevalent throughout the work. The orchestra performs divided, with two string orchestras “competing against each other,” Weiser said, and percussion instruments across the back.
The performance will be narrated by Harry Lennix. Lennix is an American actor known for his work on “The Blacklist.” He also had roles in “House, M.D.,” “ER,” and in the “Matrix” movies.
“To have him here leading the narration makes this a once in a lifetime thing,” Weiser said. “The combination of all of these forces coming together makes it one of the biggest things we’ve put together.”
The Erie Philharmonic has commissioned pieces in the past, including violin and trumpet pieces. However, this time around, Erie Philharmonic garnered the support of orchestras throughout the region. The support of the Buffalo Philharmonic is especially important, Weiser noted.
“It really speaks volumes in terms of the validity of this project,” Weiser said. “The Buffalo Philharmonic is 10 to 20 times our size, but they’re also always on the forefront of commissioning pieces. It’s a good sign of mutual respect that they’re coming on board with us to do it.”
Also scheduled for the performance is soloist Steven Banks who will front the orchestra with a saxophone piece.
“It’s an incredibly beautiful instrument performed in a light never seen before, as a soloist in front of an orchestra,” Weiser said.
That’s all culminated with a performance of Beethoven’s Seventh symphony.
“With Beethoven’s seventh, the audience will hear one of the pieces they know that was made for an orchestra,” Weiser said. “The evening brings together multiple ways to hear an orchestra all in one performance.”
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Additional information and tickets are available through the Erie Philharmonic website.