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Dawson, Beethoven & Bernstein at Music Hall

January 8 @ 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm

|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every day that begins at 2:00 pm, repeating until January 9, 2022

Cincinnati Music Hall

$14 – $107
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Universal themes of cultural identity and our shared humanity are the focus of this performance of Dawson, Beethoven & Bernstein in Cincinnati.


James Conlon, May Festival Music Director Laureate, returns with works by three composers who touch on universal themes of cultural identity and our shared humanity. Dawson, a pioneering composer in his time, expresses the Black American experiences while Beethoven’s and Bernstein’s works illustrate the conflicts between cultures thrown together through circumstance.

Conductor James Conlon, May Festival Music Director Laureate, joins the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in January for a program that will include Ludwig van Beethoven’s Overture to Fidelio, William Dawson’s The Negro Folk Symphony, Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, and Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3. This program is part of Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Multicultural Awareness Council (MAC) Series.

At first glance, the works in Conlon’s program might seem unconnected, but they find common ground in their themes. Each is an expression of cultural identity. Conlon calls the program’s structure “no accident,” having built it to echo a program focusing on brotherhood he had created for the 2002 May Festival, the year after a police shooting sparked riots in downtown Cincinnati. At the center of it all is William Dawson’s The Negro Folk Symphony.

In a program note he penned for the Carnegie Hall premiere, Dawson wanted listeners to know his work was “unmistakably not the work of a white man.” He wrote, “The themes are taken from what are popularly known as Negro Spirituals. In this composition, the composer employed three themes taken from typical melodies over which he has brooded since childhood, having learned them at his mother’s knee.” Though African American spirituals were woven in throughout the piece, the second of three movements, titled “Hope in the Night” is not based on a spiritual at all. Dawson gives the melody to a lone English horn and described it as an “atmosphere of the humdrum life of a people whose bodies were baked by the sun…whose lives were proscribed before they were born.”

On November 20, 1934, Dawson’s The Negro Folk Symphony catapulted to success when Leopold Stokowski conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Carnegie Hall premiere of the piece. Stokowski led four back-to-back performances of The Negro Folk Symphony, one of which was nationally broadcasted by CBS radio. One New York critic called it “the most distinctive and promising American symphonic proclamation which has so far been achieved.” It was a glimpse of more success to come, but after only a handful of performances over the next 18 months, the piece that brought Carnegie Hall audiences to their feet fell into obscurity.

For Conlon, the most astonishing question about Dawson, given the immediate success of his symphony, is—“and we probably know the answer—how is it possible that a young man, having written such an excellent and accomplished first symphony, is ignored? His command of form, his mastery of orchestration is all there. How and why did he not write more symphonies, why were there no more commissions, why was this piece not played more after its successful premiere?”

William Dawson did find his place in the choral world. Dawson, who at age 13, ran away from home to the Tuskegee Institute, returned to the historically Black institution after earning a master’s degree, to launch its music school, making its choir internationally famous by singing his arrangements of African American spirituals. Over time, Dawson’s arrangements of spirituals became widely published in the United States and continue to be regularly performed by school, college and community choral programs


Tickets to Dawson, Beethoven & Bernstein:

The Dawson, Beethoven & Bernstein performances will take place on January 8, 2022, at 7:30 p.m. and January 9, 2022, at 2 p.m.; ticket prices range from $14-107.

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About William Dawson:

Dawson began composing at a young age, and early in his compositional career, his Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano was performed by the Kansas City Symphony. Besides chamber music, he is also known for his contributions to both orchestral and choral literature. Dawson said that the composition was an attempt to convey the missing elements that had been lost when Africans came into bondage outside their homeland. Dawson’s arrangements of traditional African American spirituals are widely published in the United States and are regularly performed by school, college and community choral programs.


Parking at Music Hall:

A 450-space underground garage, surface lots and on-street parking are available near Music Hall. Use the Cincy EZ Park App to pay for parking as appropriate.


Accessibility at Music Hall:

The ADA Accessibility entrance is located on the southeast side of the building on Elm Street. For additional assistance or directions, please speak with a Music Hall usher or staff member.


Prohibited Items at Music Hall:

Oversized bags, luggage, and backpacks may not be permitted inside the venue. Clutch purses and other small personal bags are allowed. All bags and persons are subject to inspection before entering the theater. Please allow extra time prior to your performance. See the full list of prohibited items. 


Covid-19 Guidelines:

Guests, staff, and volunteers are required to always wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, except when actively consuming food or beverages. Ticket holders 12 years of age and older will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry.


Nearby Black-owned Restaurants:


Photo provided by Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra 

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Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
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Cincinnati Music Hall
1241 Elm Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202 United States
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