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Press Release


Jean Oelrich
Director of Marketing & Communications
(714) 876-2380

For second time, National Endowment for the Humanities awards $300,000 to six-orchestra consortium led by Pacific Symphony for humanities-infused concert programs

Orange County, Calif. — August 12, 2011

In addition to Pacific Symphony, orchestras include Austin Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, North Carolina Symphony, South Dakota Symphony and Louisville Orchestra

Orange County, Calif.—Aug. 12, 2013—The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded $300,000 to a consortium of orchestras led by Pacific Symphony and Music Director Carl St.Clair for Phase Two of "Music Unwound," providing continued support for a multi-year commitment to integrate humanities content with live concert performances. The joint recipients include the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Austin Symphony, the North Carolina Symphony, the South Dakota Symphony and the Louisville Orchestra. (The University of Texas is also a principal recipient of the grant.) Conceived and directed by New York-based author, scholar and Pacific Symphony advisor Joseph Horowitz, the consortium of orchestras, in collaboration with local universities, is engaged in a multi-season exploration of aspects of the American musical experience. The project takes the form of cross-disciplinary festivals that also link to high schools, museums and two South Dakota Indian reservations.

"I believe we are witnessing a sea change in the symphonic community, and that the 'Music Unwound' consortium is at the center of it," says Horowitz. "Orchestras are re-thinking the concert experience. They're also re-thinking their scope of activity in the community. 'Music Unwound' speaks directly to both of these refreshed priorities."

The project represents an unprecedented commitment to incorporate thematic programming, with scholarly input, into the mainstream subscription programming of American orchestras. Phase One, also funded by the NEH for $300,000, allowed for the launch of "Music Unwound" during the 2011-12 season with "Dvorak and America" (Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra in collaboration with Irvine high schools). 

The topics, developed by Horowitz, meld symphonic concerts with humanities content and affect a variety of strategies and challenges for the symphonic field. Each topic focuses on a composer to illuminate issues of culture and society, with each orchestra exploring one or both via festivals incorporating multi-media subscription concerts. These scripted events, incorporating visual tracks, would subsequently be offered elsewhere. The project's ancillary components include lecture/recitals; museum exhibits; and collaborating with middle schools, high schools and universities.

"The project incorporates concerts with integrated visual and dramatic components," says Horowitz. "Also, the intellectual heft of the topics in play—'Dvorak and America,' 'Copland and Mexico,' and 'Charles Ives' America'—not only facilitates linkage with universities and high schools, but also virtually demands it. Phase Two of 'Music Unwound' not only enlarges the participant group, but also the projects themselves. In particular, the South Dakota Symphony's 'Dvorak' project—taking Dvorak's New World Symphony to two Indian reservations—can only be described as boldly experimental. And the Phase Two recipients include the University of Texas, which will host a multi-week Ives festival engaging the orchestra, the chorus, the wind ensemble, and both music and history scholars and classrooms—in effect, a pedagogical experiment built around public programs."

St.Clair has devoted his 24-year tenure with Pacific Symphony to designing festivals and concert series that enable audiences to engage more deeply with both new music and standard orchestral repertoire. Such efforts include the series Sunday Connections, launched in 1995 as Classical Connections, and the annual American Composers Festival, which began in 2000. For the Symphony, the term "Music Unwound" originated with a series of concerts developed by St.Clair within the Symphony's classical series, specifically designed to experiment with new forms of audience engagement.

"We are in constant pursuit of ways to make our classical concert evenings a collective experience, and not simply an 'us and them' sharing of symphonic music," says St.Clair. "This includes presenting standard works in active and interactive ways and expanding our repertoire and musical offerings of new works, presenting them in ways which make them less daunting. 'Music Unwound' gives us the freedom to explore the creation of this new relationship with our audience and encourages us to break away from the standardized programming and concert production of years gone by. This provides our concert presentations with a new face and keeps our partnership with Orange County fresh and renewed." 

The Symphony's 2013-14 season is the fifth year for an initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in which three symphony concerts per season use new concert formats and thematic programming to contextualize music and enrich the concert music experience. The Symphony pioneered this new way of presenting an important piece of music or a composer (or both) with multimedia and other enhancements to allow the audience deeper insights, understanding and a richer enjoyment of these concerts.

"Music Unwound" also derives in part from a 2008 New York Philharmonic project, "Inside the Music," which explored Dvorak's New World Symphony with actors Alec Baldwin (narrator) and Kevin Deas (actor/singer), conductor Marin Alsop and Peter Bogdanoff (video artist), with Horowitz as writer and producer. (Bogdanoff continues to contribute as video artist for "Music Unwound.") Both topics are an extension of other earlier projects led by Horowitz: the NEH National Education Project, "Dvorak and America," which supported the creation of Horowitz' young readers book, Dvorak and America, and the Robert Winter/Peter Bogdanoff companion interactive DVD (materials that are being used in classrooms by three of the consortium orchestras); and the NEH Teacher-Training Institute on "Dvorak and America," for teachers (grades 3 to 12).

This most recent evolution of "Music Unwound" has catalyzed an intense period of collaborative planning outside the usual concert parameters. It has already changed the organizational culture of the consortium orchestras; each has in some way enlarged its artistic mission. Altogether, "Music Unwound" aligns the efforts of more than 500 artists and scholars.