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Chicago Symphony Orchestra

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CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuted orchestral pieces by Florence Price and William Grant Still in the 30s and 40s, but it's rarely played a major work by an African-American since. In fact, the premiere this weekend of Olly Wilson's third symphony, Hold On, is the CSO's first such performance in decades--and the piece is the only one the orchestra has commissioned from a black composer in its 108-year history. A Saint Louis native, Wilson grew up listening to jazz and classical music on the radio; his father, a tenor in a church choir, taught him to love spirituals. While in college he played the piano and double bass with jazz bands, and his compositions reflect the improvisational flair he acquired there, as well as an encyclopedic scholarly knowledge of African-American heritage. Wilson has abandoned an early infatuation with academic atonality; his orchestral music is solidly grounded in the classical tradition, but borrows from a range of folk genres. It might moan and wail like the blues, swing like jazz, echo the rhythms of indigenous West African music, even cut to a drum-section solo for a pinch of old-time rock 'n' roll. Hold On, which refers throughout to the spiritual of the same name, promises to be an exhilarating mishmash of street parade and gospel revival, with an extraordinarily generous complement of percussion, from sizzle cymbal to steel-pan drum to harp to cowbell to marimba. Directing will be William Eddins, freshly promoted to resident conductor at the CSO. Also on the program: Dvorak's Symphony no. 7 and works by Copland and Weber. Friday, 8 PM, Christ Universal Temple, 11901 S. Ashland, and Saturday, 8 PM, and Tuesday, 7:30 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Olly Wilson uncredited photo.

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