The concert began with R. Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, featuring violinist Jennifer Curtis. When Donald Oehler, music director of Chapel Hill Philharmonia, first introduced me to Jennifer and we were meeting to discuss the project, he was exploring what to program as an opener for Millikan Symphony and asked if I had any ideas. I immediately suggested The Lark Ascending. It was a piece Bob loved to play and one I could see him playing clearly in my mind – on the walkway above our living room that we used as a stage when I was growing up. Jennifer said it was a work she had always wanted to play. It was a gorgeous synergistic performance.
Chapel Hill Philharmonia went deeper and deeper with each movement of Millikan Symphony, carrying the audience with them. Science, based on multistage carcinogenesis process, is the most difficult and they just went for it, it was very exciting. Animals traveled somewhere it had never gone before and felt magical. Don slowed the tempos way down and let it have the spaciousness it needed as a pastoral movement. (Thank you Don, that was genius!) Rowing was a blast, played with such precision and joy. Jennifer returned for the fourth movement. There was something very comforting about that. Violin is a violin concerto and structured in 3 sections. This was the movement I composed first, based on the Millikan Symphony theme that Bob and I had written together as kids. Jennifer’s playing was incredible – fierce, intimate, powerfully healing. At the end of the performance the audience burst into cheer. I was completely overwhelmed. There was so much love in the room – love for Bob and all he gave in his life, love we all shared through the music played so wonderfully by Jennifer and Chapel Hill Philharmonia.
I am grateful to Dr. Barbara Rimer, Dean of Gillings School of Global Public Health, for writing such a thoughtful response on her blog: A moving experience.
In a personal email Barbara said to me, “I am awed by the way you reached out and learned from each of the communities that Bob influenced and influenced him. What you did was classic public health, and I really appreciated it.”
I told her that calling my work “classic public health” was the highest praise she could give me. It also gives me a new way to think about what it is that I do.
It is no small feat for a community orchestra to tackle a new work, much less a 48-minute symphony, but Chapel Hill Philharmonia rose to the challenge with big-hearted enthusiasm. It was a joy to work with them, and I am grateful for all the work they put into making the premiere such a special experience for everyone.
More to come about the rest of the weekend!