Commission Updates: Thomas Whitman
"OUR PHILADELPHIA" / GOAL $2,500
for flute, oboe, trumpet, horn, bass trombone, and percussion
With your support, Thomas and Orchestra 2001 can expand this project. Help us stage more free, socially distanced, pop-up performances in communities across Philadelphia.
To donate by phone text the code "FUNDTHOMAS" to 44-321.
Our Philadelphia celebrates the vibrant life of this city in its diversity and contradictions. This work is commissioned by Orchestra 2001 with the support of the William Penn Foundation, as part of the ensemble's EMERGING MARKETS series. The composition refers to some of the city's well-known public marketplaces and will be played at those sites in 2021.
The work begins with an introductory fanfare, followed by portraits of four locations in the city.
- Ninth Street Market evokes the immigrant communities that live and work side-by-side in South Philadelphia.
- Delaware River at Shackamaxon imagines the river banks by the 17th-century Lenape gathering place Shackamaxon, near the site of present-day Fishtown. (In our own time, the center of the local Lenape community is the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation Headquarters in Bridgeton, New Jersey.)
- Ride That Train evokes a few merchants from Reading Terminal Market, united by a propulsive train-like rhythm.
- Our Philadelphia / Urban Farm draws inspiration from the small urban farms that flourish in many Philadelphia neighborhoods, offering refuge from the bustle and stress of city life.
This composition quotes, or alludes to, the following songs. I acknowledge the artists who created them --- and the diverse musical traditions they embody --- with gratitude and admiration.
“Bublitschki” (Eastern Europe / Jewish: traditional)
“Cherry, Ripe, Ripe, Ripe” (England: traditional)
“Chieu Tay Do” (Vietnam: Lam Phuong)
“Harum Simitha” (Indonesia: I Nyoman Suadin)
“Love Train” (Gamble and Huff / the O’Jays)
“Reie, Reie, Ridieoo” (Pennsylvania Dutch: George Britton)
“Son de Paracho” (Mexico: Bautista String Ensemble)
“This Little Light of Mine” (African-American and other communities)
“Va Pensiero” (Italy: Giuseppe Verdi)
“Y Volveré” (France / Mexico: Alain Barrière/Los Ángeles Negros)
“Yoie-A-Way-Ha” (Lenape: Wind Spirit Drum)
Thomas Whitman (b. 1960) began his musical studies with cellist Harry Wimmer. His first composition teachers were Gerald Levinson, Thomas Oboe Lee, Joan Panetti, and Max Lifchitz. He earned a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, where his teachers included George Crumb, Jay Reise, and Richard Wernick. As a Luce Scholar, he studied traditional music in Bali, Indonesia in 1986-7 where his principal teachers were the late I Madé Gerindem and I Wayan Rai. He is also an accomplished viola da gambist.
Critics have praised Whitman’s music as “lyrical” (The Philadelphia Inquirer) “beautiful, sensuous” (Philadelphia Weekly) and “genuinely magical” (The Boston Herald). Opera News noted his ability “to write dramatic music that soars into lyrical melodies, filled with allusive atmosphere and rich emotional textures.” His many prizes and honors include an ASCAP Foundation Grant and artist residencies at MacDowell and at Yaddo. He has received commissions from many ensembles, including North/South Consonance, Orchestra 2001, ALEA III, Network for New Music, the Philadelphia Singers, the Delaware Chamber Music Festival, the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, Mélomanie, and Dolce Suono Ensemble.
Whitman has composed six operas, five in collaboration with the poet Nathalie Anderson. Their first opera, The Black Swan, was produced in 1998 with stage direction by Sarah Caldwell. Sukey in the Dark has been mounted three times, including a 2017 production by Peabody Chamber Opera in Baltimore and a 2019 production by One Ounce Opera in Austin, Texas. Other stage works include dance pieces in collaboration with several choreographers; and a chamber opera for International Opera Theater based on Boccaccio’s Decameron, written in collaboration with six other Philadelphia-area composers and librettist Karen Saillant. As the recipient of a 2010 Independence Foundation Fellowship for the Arts, Whitman composed the score for Beirut, Philadelphia, a film by independent filmmaker Eugene Martin. His most recent film score was for a 1922 version of Cinderella by the pioneering animation artist Lotte Reiniger.
Whitman has also composed many works for young people, including The Princess and the Man with a Pure Heart (commissioned and recorded by Auricolae); compositions for the Chester Children’s Chorus; a work for the Delaware County Youth Orchestra; and a children’s opera (The Royal Singer) in which kids participate as co-creators and performers.
Mr. Whitman has taught at Swarthmore College since 1990. He is the founder and co-director of Gamelan Semara Santi, the Philadelphia area’s first Indonesian percussion orchestra, which performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra in October 2003 at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and at Carnegie Hall. He also directs Gamelan Gita Santi, a community ensemble in South Philadelphia sponsored by the Philadelphia Folklore Project. For many years he has also served as a volunteer music teacher in under-served communities in Philadelphia and Chester.
More information coming soon!