The Valdosta Symphony Orchestra hosted the world premiere of James Oliverio’s “Trumpet Concerto No. 1: World House” honoring the life’s work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
James Oliverio’s “Trumpet Concerto No. 1: World House” uses the vessel of a symphonic concerto to showcase the power of a single voice to lead and inspire a community, a nation, and generations of Americans.
World House was commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in Washington, D.C., and undertaken in partnership with the King Papers Collection at Morehouse College in Atlanta. The initial inspiration for the concerto was Dr. King’s concept of the World House, referenced in his Nobel Peace Prize speech, and the chapter from his 1968 book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”
Although Dr. King may have regarded “The World House” as his single most important essay, unlike his “I Have A Dream” speech or “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” this work is virtually unknown, Oliverio said. “The World House is our one common planet, the only place people of all races can either learn to live together or ‘perish as fools.”’
At Morehouse College, Oliverio spent time researching Dr. King’s literary pieces and life works to use as inspiration for the World House concerto.
“I selected the Trumpet as the solo voice for the concerto because of its unique ability to be able to not only rise above the entire orchestra, but also to blend in the instrumental fabric,” Oliverio said.
The concerto is comprised of five movements: A Voice from the Wilderness, One HumanRace, A Message of Love, One Human Dream and A Voice from the Promised Land.
Randolph Lee, University of Florida music faculty and trumpet artist, served as the World House concerto’s soloist at the premiere performances on March 12 and 13.
Lee said the concerto is unique because it is not strictly classical or jazz and that the orchestra responded well to the challenges of the score.
“It’s a powerful piece. The ending really is the highlight of the whole concerto because it ties everything together. You hear the spiritual Precious Lord being hummed and played by the piano. I got to play the World House theme over top of it from off-stage. The result was just magical. It ends on a concert high C and I held it as long as I could. When I stopped playing, I didn’t hear any clapping. My first thought was, ‘Great they didn’t like the piece,’ but when I walked back on stage, the audience gave the performance a standing ovation. People said that this moment in the piece gave them chills.”
The work is very effective and haunting, a fitting tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., orchestra conductor Howard Hsu said. “And having the composer to give cultural and historical context to the work really opened up the audience, and they received the work enthusiastically. “
Vicki Crawford, King Papers Collection director, joined Oliverio to discuss Dr. King’s unique work at J.L. Lomax Elementary School in Valdosta.
Students had to opportunity to learn more about Dr. King and experience the power of his words and ideas through music, Crawford said. “Along with reading primary texts written by Dr. King, himself, music and the arts continue to play an indispensable role in our efforts to advance King’s work in our schools and communities,” she said.
“Collaborations such as the one between the Morehouse College King Collection, Digital Worlds Institute and the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra provide successful models for doing so.”
In addition to the orchestral score, the composer created Songs from the World House from several of the concerto’s main themes. The Songs were given their world premiere performance by the Morehouse College Glee Club in Atlanta on Nov. 2, 2015 and are meant to go out into the community, schools, churches and civic groups in the weeks leading up to the symphonic performances of the World House Concerto to build awareness and participation in the celebration of Dr. King’s legacy as a true American hero.