Detroit Symphony neighborhood outreach concerts to feature masterpiece by ‘the Black Mozart’  

The orchestra will perform the better-known work from Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges at four Detroit venues.

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The second symphony by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, will be played by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra this week in a rare performance of the better-known work from the man known as “the Black Mozart.” 

Per The Detroit Free Press, the chevalier was the first known Black classical composer. He was a wildly popular socialite, virtuoso violinist, conductor and the most renowned fencer in France, the report notes. 

French classical composer, virtuoso violinist and conductor Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

There is a 2006 book on Bologne’s life called The Other Mozart: The Life of the Famous Chevalier Saint-George. And, according to the Free Press report, Searchlight Films is reportedly developing a biopic about his life. 

“(The chevalier) was also authorized to commission Haydn’s Paris Symphonies,” said conductor Yue Bao, who will be directing the orchestra for her first time, with guest Pablo Ferrández on cello. “And he premiered and conducted them, so there’s a great connection between him and Haydn. I paired their pieces with Mozart’s ‘Haffner’ symphony. Mozart and Haydn had a deep friendship — we say Haydn was the mentor of Mozart, but they were more like deep, very close friends, and they played quartets together in the 1780s. He dedicated quartets to Hayden which stated, ‘To my best friend.’”

Bao, an extraordinary Asian female conductor, said she is bringing her natural lighthearted fare to the program. 

“It’s a neighborhood outreach concert, a family show, so I wanted to bring joy and delight to the atmosphere for the audiences,” she said. “The ‘Haffner’ symphony, Mozart himself said the first movement needs to be played ‘with fire,’ so it should be very fun and energetic. The second movement is graceful, and Mozart said the last movement should be played as fast as possible, so it should have a real energy and sense of humor. The last movement was the main theme from one of his comic operas, in fact.”

The orchestra’s program will also feature rare works from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn and William Grant Still. 

“I chose William Grant Still because, similar to the chevalier, I think William is one of the most important African-American composers of the 20th century,” said Bao. “But, for the 20th century, I also think he’s one of the composers that was a little bit underestimated and underplayed. His ‘Danzas de Panama’ is all about dance, based on Panamanian folk tunes. It has four dances, and in the first movement, you’ll hear musicians strike the sides of their instruments like drums. I thought it would be fun to present these pieces together.”

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra will perform their sets in four different locations over four days in Detroit. West Bloomfield’s Berman Center for the Performing Arts will play host on Thursday, May 5, and they’ll play at Livonia’s Stevenson High on Friday, May 6. The Kirk in Bloomfield Hills welcomes them on Saturday, May 7, and Grosse Pointe’s Star of the Sea will be the venue for an afternoon matinee on Sunday, May 8.

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