The New Orchestra of Washington [NOW] will open their new season on Friday, Nov. 19, at Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ in Bethesda with a performance entitled, “The Gift of Music: Dolor and Delight.” Kicking off at 7:30 p.m., it will be NOW’s first indoor concert since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We are thrilled to perform live concerts again and celebrate our milestone together with the NOW community who helped make it happen,” said NOW Artistic Director Alejandro Hernandez-Valdez. “We will honor where we began, celebrate how far we’ve come and look forward to a bright future.”
The performance will explore contrasting concepts of pain and delight, darkness and light and consonance and dissonance, with music by composers of diverse backgrounds including: Handel, Marcello, Vivaldi and two Black composers, George Walker and Jessie Montgomery.
A highlight of the season opener will include the talented African-American organist, composer, pianist and conductor, Trent Johnson, a graduate of John Hopkins University and The Julliard School, who has amassed an impressive list of accomplishments. He currently serves as both organist and assistant director of music of the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City and music director of the Oratorio Singers of Westfield, New Jersey. He also has several recordings to his credit including his interpretation of organ works penned by the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Black composer George Walker.
Johnson said he relishes the surprise that many audiences exhibit when they realize that the featured organist for the evening breaks with their assumptions because of his ethnicity.
“I’ve been the minority in a lot of situations but as an organist, in many ways, it’s an advantage being a Black man because I stand out,” said Johnson, who now lives in Montclair, New Jersey and has lived throughout and traveled the world both because of his career and due to his being the child of a military family.
“My approach has long been to work hard, study and do my best and then see how things develop. And I realize that I’ve been very fortunate,” he said, adding that his decision to change majors in college from piano to organ occurred, in part, because of the encouragement of his teachers.
“I took to the pipe organ quickly and it was actually easier for me,” he said. “It was becoming too difficult to prepare compositions by Schubert and Beethoven for piano and then play organ on weekends for local churches and synagogues.”
He celebrates recent changes in the classical music world – a environment which has finally begun to acknowledge the contributions of Black composers and called for the inclusion of their works in concerts.
“It’s unfortunate but historically, many of the most revered composers have become so idolized that people often feel that only their works merit being considered ‘good music,’” he said. “Even among all of the great composers, past or present, despite there being composers of all creeds and colors, it’s been rare to see a dark face – either among composers, performers or conductors.”
“In truth, we’ve always existed but we’re a rarity because the average American hasn’t seen us or heard of us before. That’s changing now because people want to hear different styles and voices. Working with Alejandro (the conductor for Friday’s concert) and NOW is a real treat because of his mission to bring voices rarely included or seen to the forefront within the classical world.”
“Maybe there’s something new in the water today. But more people are finally discovering that there are others who are doing great things whose names are not Beethoven or Bach. Conductors like Alejandro are allowing others like me to experiment, shine and be heard.”
“Ever since I first began to study piano at 12, it has been rare to find another African American who, like me, had an interest in classical music. And while I’ve been a church musician for 25 years, I’m still amazed at how beautiful an art form classical music is.”
“Still, I look forward to the day when folks like me are no longer considered a novelty and that day is coming soon. Black children need to know that they can make this their career, too. After all, classical music doesn’t just belong to whites. It’s just as much ours as anyone else’s. It belongs to the world,” he said.
For more information, visit https://neworchestraofwashington.org. In celebration of NOW’s 10th anniversary season, every purchased ticket will come with a complimentary ticket for a guest. Enter promo code BOGO to get this offer when you buy two or more tickets.
New Orchestra of Washington (NOW), founded in 2012, is a one-of-a-kind, genre-bending ensemble, providing a successful framework for chamber and orchestra music in the 21st century. NOW believes in the transformative power of music and strives to build a world where transformative musical experiences are accessible to all. As a small chamber orchestra with flexible instrumentation, NOW elevates every member to his or her highest potential, creating a unique and engaging live experience.