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The Toledo Symphony’s North Star Festival Starts This Week

By Fletcher Word
Sojourner’s Truth Editor

In February, Black History Month, the Toledo Symphony will contribute to the celebration by starting a series of musical events as a prelude to its North Star Festival, taking place in March and April. The main performances of the North Star Festival include: “Romance and Spirituals” at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library on March 11; Kathleen Battle’s “Underground Railroad – A Spiritual Journey” at the Toledo Museum of Art’s Peristyle on March 16; the opera I Dream at the Valentine Theatre on April 6 – 8 and “Classical Ellington” at the Peristyle on April 20 and 21.

But woven between these very big-time events is a series of performances – many of which are free – binding together the over-all theme of the North Star and the journey on the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape to freedom in the first part of the 19th century.

“In this North Star Festival, we highlight our local heritage and celebrate the musical contributions of Black Americans throughout history from the 1`850s top 1960s,” reads the introduction in the Symphony’s promotional material.

A gallery event at the Toledo School for the Arts on February 8 from 5:50 to 7:00 p.m. is the start of the North Star Festival; followed by “Lift Ev’ry Voice: The Musical and Historical Legacy of the Underground Railroad” in the Peristyle on February 15. On that day the Toledo Symphony will collaborate with various community organizations to explore Toledo’s Underground Railroad history through song. This event is free to school and homeschool students

On February 22, at the Sanger Branch Library, members of the Symphony will present A Preschool Storytime from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. for preschoolers and their parents – also a free event.

The Orchestra will perform at St. Martin de Porres on February 25 in a neighborhood concert starting at 5 p.m. in a ticketed event titled “Reaching for the Stars” and the Orchestra and the Toledo Symphony Youth Quartet will perform at the Kent Branch Library on February 27 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. with a selection of spirituals prepared for the Lathrop House titled “At the Purchaser’s Option” – also a free event.

Merwyn Siu is the artistic administrator for the Toledo Symphony and the person primarily responsible for organizing the North Star Festival. “We wanted to do a festival and create something that lasted,” he said of the effort. “A few things percolated,” he noted of the various inspirations for the program including the Symphony’s ability to work with “wonderful quartet arrangements,” the fact that there had been a collaboration with Lathrop House over the summer and the fact of opera diva Kathleen Battle’s comeback and her ongoing tribute to the Underground Railroad.

.“We’re trying to pursue something in depth,” said Siu. “We need to learn and do a better job of learning how to program for a number of audiences.” The North Star Festival, said Siu, has given the Symphony the opportunity to highlight a number of African-American artists.

After February, as the main four events take shape, there will still be several introductory events leading to the “big four” including a “A Conversation on Romance and Spirituals” at the West Toledo Branch Library on March 1 from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. which will feature Merwyn Siu providing insights behind the programming of the Chamber Series performance on March 11. Rehearsal for “Romance and Spirituals” will also be open during the afternoon of March 11`.

Then come the major events in March and April. “Romance and Spirituals” will present small groups of musicians performing traditional spirituals and new compositions such as the hip-hop beats of Haitian-American composer Daniel Bernard Roumain. Battle, a world-renowned soprano and native of Portsmouth, Ohio, has for several years been presenting a musical tribute to the Underground Railroad only in those cities along the route of the railroad. She was quickly convinced to add Toledo to her schedule and participate in the North Star Festival. Douglas Tappin’s I Dream opera, produced by Toledo Opera, will have its world premiere here in Toledo. The opera is a rhythm and blues recounting of the last 36 hours of Martin Luther King Jr’s life. Ironically the student performance on April 4 will occur exactly 50 years after the assassination of the civil rights’ icon.

Jazz takes center stage on April 20-21 with “Classical Ellington.” This will be in part his version of The Nutcracker and his tone poem, Harlem.

For more information on the festival, call the Toledo Symphony at 419-246-8000 or go online at toledosymphony.com/northstarfestival.



Copyright © 2018 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 08/16/18 14:12:12 -0700.

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