Update browser for a secure Minnesota Orchestra experience

It looks like you may be using a web browser version that we don't support. Make sure you're using the most recent version of your browser, or try using of these supported browsers, to get the full Minnesota Orchestra experience: Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Edge.

Thursday September 15, 2022

Minnesota Orchestra's Listening Project Makes Public Debut October 7

Aimed at performing and recording orchestral works from historically underrepresented composers, the concert is an expansion of a Minnesota Orchestra recording project that began in 2021

Conducted by Kensho Watanabe, hosted by Dr. Louise Toppin and featuring bass-baritone soloist Christopher Humbert Jr., the October 7 concert features six works new to the Orchestra

The Minnesota Orchestra will debut a new concert initiative—the Listening Project—on Friday, October 7, focused on performing and recording orchestral works by historically underrepresented composers. Led by guest conductor Kensho Watanabe and hosted by Dr. Louise Toppin, the performance will feature six works by Black composers that have never been played by the Minnesota Orchestra, with the aim of introducing musicians and audiences to a trove of rarely heard music and creating recordings to help promote these compositions across the orchestral field.

The evening opens with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Idyll followed by Jamaican-born composer Eleanor Alberga’s recent work The Soul’s Expression and Hale Smith’s jazz-inspired Contours. The concert’s second half begins with Adolphus Hailstork’s Lachrymosa: 1919 and continues with Spirituals, a collection of five popular African American spirituals arranged by Margaret Bonds, one of the first Black composers to gain wide recognition in the United States. The program concludes with Colonial Dance, a composition by Florence Price—who in 1933 became the first African American woman to have her music played by a major symphony orchestra. Bass-baritone Christopher Humbert Jr. will perform as soloist in both Alberga’s The Soul’s Expression and Bonds’ Spirituals.

The program will be performed at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 7, with ticket prices ranging from $12 to $32. The concerts are free to attend through the Hall Pass program for young listeners ages 6 to 18; visit minnesotaorchestra.org/hallpass for details. It will also be broadcast live on stations of YourClassical Minnesota Public Radio, including KSJN 99.5 FM in the Twin Cities.

YourClassical MPR will also collaborate with the Orchestra to record the October 7 performance; in turn, its regional radio network will share the under-performed works with more listeners across Minnesota and beyond in the future. Ticketholders will receive complimentary digital downloads of each piece, with the recordings made freely available online through the Orchestra’s website. The recordings will also be shared in partnership with the African Diaspora Music Project (ADMP), a comprehensive repository for resources on classical works by composers of African descent with the goal of encouraging more orchestras to include this repertoire in their own programming.

The concert follows a successful first iteration of the Listening Project in 2021, when the Orchestra made the first-ever professional recordings of five works by five Black composers in sessions led by guest conductor Scott Yoo. While last year’s recording sessions did not include a public performance, this year’s iteration brings these works to the Orchestra’s subscription audiences. Kensho Watanabe, widely regarded as one of today’s most exciting American conductors, will make his Minnesota Orchestra conducting debut in the concert; Dr. Louise Toppin, the founder of the ADMP and a critically acclaimed soprano and scholar on the music of African American composers, will host the concert, providing deeper context around the works being performed.

Acting Assistant Principal Viola Sam Bergman—who, along with First Associate Concertmaster Susie Park, has served as a co-leader of the initiative—summarizes the impetus behind the Listening Project: “The hope on our end is, first off, for the featured composers who are living to be able to use these recordings however they wish, at no cost, to advance their own work and careers, and for the heirs of those deceased to be able to promote the music of their relations. But we’re also very much hoping that other orchestras will use these recordings as references in deciding how these works can fit into their own concert programs. Often, works that are unrecorded aren’t programmed just because no one’s sure how they’ll sound.”


About Kensho Watanabe

Kensho Watanabe is fast becoming one of the most exciting and versatile young conductors to come out of the United States. Recently recognized as a recipient of a Career Assistance Award by the Solti Foundation U.S., he held the position of assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 2016 to 2019, where he made a critically acclaimed subscription debut, taking over from his mentor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. He has since returned there for more subscription programs, including concerts in the 2021-22 season. Other recent highlights include his debuts at the Bravo! Vail Festival and numerous concerts at the Mann and Saratoga performing arts centers, as well as debuts with the London Philharmonic, Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, Szczecin Philharmonic, Charlotte Symphony and Sarasota Orchestra. He has led numerous operas with the Curtis Opera Theatre, most recently Puccini’s La Rondine and La Bohéme.

An accomplished violinist, Watanabe received his master of music degree from the Yale School of Music and served as substitute violinist in the Philadelphia Orchestra from 2012 to 2016. He is also a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied with Otto-Werner Mueller. Additionally, he holds a bachelor of science degree from Yale College, where he studied molecular, cellular and developmental biology.


About Dr. Louise Toppin

Dr. Louise Toppin has received critical acclaim for her operatic, orchestral, oratorio and recital performances worldwide. She has appeared for many years in Gershwin shows with pianists Leon Bates and Joseph Joubert. Her 19 CDs include Ah love, but a day, featuring music by women composers; La Saison des fleurs; and Songs of Love and Justice, Vol. I, a collection of songs by Adolphus Hailstork. She has edited nine anthologies and a choral work published by Classical Vocal Reprints and Hildegard Press, including Rediscovering Margaret Bonds and An Anthology of African and African Diaspora Songs.

Toppin’s recent performances include co-curating and singing at a festival on Black Music in Hamburg, Germany, with Thomas Hampson, Leah Hawkins and Lawrence Brownlee; a solo appearance with the Experiential Orchestra in New York City; a recital for the Oxford Lieder Festival in England; a residency with Duke University as a scholar/artist; the 150th anniversary celebration of the ratification of the 13th amendment for Congress and President Obama at the U.S. Capitol; and Masters of the Spirituals in Lincoln Center, which is currently touring. She serves on the education committee for the Denyce Graves Foundation and on the boards of Opera Ebony and The Hampsong Foundation. In addition, she is co-founder and director of the George Shirley Vocal Competition and Videmus (promoting African American music), and founder/editor of the African Diaspora Music Project research tool. She is also a professor of music (voice) at the University of Michigan.


About Christopher Humbert Jr.

Described as beholding a “rich baritone voice” and a “towering and alluring” stage presence, bass-baritone Christopher Humbert Jr. has proven a favorite with several audiences across the United States. He has appeared in multiple operatic and theatrical productions throughout his home state of Ohio, including performances with Opera Columbus, Mid-Ohio Opera and Nightingale Opera Theatre. He has also performed with the Seagle Festival, Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre, Annapolis Opera, Detroit Opera and Palm Beach Opera. He was selected to join Opera Theatre Saint Louis during the 2020 season as a Gerdine Young Artist. During this time, he was featured on St. Louis, Missouri’s Channel Nine station for the inaugural Songs for St. Louis televised concert series. He is also a frequent oratorio and concert soloist and has appeared on the Carnegie Hall stage as a soloist with Manhattan Concert Productions in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem.

Humbert was a first place finalist in Opera Guild of Dayton’s Tri-State Vocal Competition, a frequent winner of awards, and last season joined the Benenson Young Artist program at Palm Beach Opera under the baton of Antonello Allemandi, where he starred alongside J’Nai Bridges as Zuniga in Carmen. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in opera performance from Boston Conservatory and is a graduate of the Capital University Conservatory of Music.


Minnesota Orchestra Classical Concerts


Friday, October 7, 2022, 8 p.m. / Orchestra Hall


Minnesota Orchestra

Kensho Watanabe, conductor

Dr. Louise Toppin, host

Christopher Humbert Jr., bass-baritone


ALBERGA The Soul’s Expression
SMITH Contours
HAILSTORK Lachrymosa: 1919
BONDS Spirituals
PRICE Colonial Dance


Tickets: $12 to $32 [Free tickets available for young listeners from ages 6 to 18, thanks to the Hall Pass program.]



Tickets and subscription packages can be purchased now at minnesotaorchestra.org or by calling 612-371-5656. For groups of 10 or more, call 612-371-5662.

The Hall Pass program makes free tickets available for young listeners ages 6 to 18 for select Classical and Symphony in 60 concerts, and all kids under 18 for Family concerts.

This program is sponsored by Cynthia and Jay Ihlenfeld.

Details around COVID safety protocols can be found at minnesotaorchestra.org/safety

All programs, artists, dates, times and prices subject to change.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

With this concert we gratefully recognize Cy and Paula DeCosse for their generosity as lead sponsor of this project.


# # #