Local Composers and BSO Celebrate JP

Three Berklee College of Music professors, all Jamaica Plain residents, have been commissioned to write new music for the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Residence Composer Project. The works by Andrew List, Julius P. Williams, and Elena Roussanova will be the culmination of the BSO’s three-year residency in Jamaica Plain. The compositions focus on subjects and narratives that highlight Jamaica Plain’s history and culture. Forthcoming events in the project will include an educational component with visits to JP schools for composer talks, multimedia presentations, and performances by musicians from the BSO.

Andrew List served as a liaison between neighborhood associations and the BSO and proposed the idea of creating music portraying historical aspects of JP and prominent persons who have lived in the area. Each composition is a multi movement work approximately 15 minutes in duration, scored for a 12-piece chamber orchestra,.

For his part, List wrote The Emerald Necklace, a chamber symphony the takes its name from the famous local park and waterway system designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. The fanfare of the first movement depicts the creation of the Jamaicaway, a major road on the Emerald Necklace. The second movement is an impression of an evening at the Jamaica Pond. The closing movement was inspired by ancient artifacts found at Spring Brook Village (now the Arnold Arboretum). Archaeologists claim the tools and arrowheads were made by native people who dwelt there as early as 8000 B.C.

Julius Williams, an accomplished African-American composer and conductor, titled his work Songs for My Culture. It pays tribute to Maude Cuney-Hare, a Jamaica Plain resident and descendant of former slaves. Cuney-Hare is acclaimed for researching and collecting folksongs from West Africa and the African-American Diaspora. Williams incorporated “Igama Lotando” (“Song of Love”), the spiritual “My Lord, What a Morning,” and “Bai Fini,” a Creole dance song in his work. One movement makes musical allusions to the Underground Railroad that ran through the Boston area.

Russian-born Elena Roussanova titled her symphonic poem A Journey to a New Land, as a reflection on immigration. The piece honors legendary BSO conductor Serge Koussevitzky, who emigrated from Tsarist Russia and settled first in Jamaica Plain. Roussanova quotes a theme from  Koussevitzky’s Double Bass Concerto as well as a song from the Russian Civil War period and other folk-like themes.

The three composers will give a presentation about their music and play excerpts at the Hunnewell Building at the Arnold Arboretum on April 20 at 6:30 P.M. A full concert at St. John’s Episcopal Church in JP and a concert-lecture for Boston school children at the Berklee Performance Center are planned for early May. (Specific dates and times to be announced.) On Sunday May 31, portions from each of the commissioned works will be performed at a gala held in Boston’s Symphony Hall.

“This project is about connectedness on many levels, bringing the Boston Symphony to Jamaica Plain for performances of music inspired by and performed in our community,” says List.

It’s also a significant milestone for Berklee. This is the first time faculty Berklee members have been commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I’ve never heard of three composers from one community or colleagues from a single college or university being commissioned by such a major orchestra. This is probably a first.”

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