Citing larger national events, the Philadelphia Orchestra has postponed its online gala originally slated for Saturday night with Steve Martin, Wynton Marsalis, and others. Instead, the orchestra has constructed an online event of conversation and contemplation about racial injustice.
The June 6 gala has been moved to June 20 with its original guests.
“It’s the wrong moment. We’re in the middle of a national tragedy on so many levels. It just doesn’t feel right to do a joyful celebratory event on Saturday night," said orchestra president and CEO Matías Tarnopolsky. “We need to do something to respond to the moment, reflect, and listen deeply.”
Marsalis will still be on hand this Saturday night, but in conversation with composer Valerie Coleman, whose Seven O’Clock Shout, inspired by frontline workers in the COVID-19 pandemic, will still receive its world premiere. Coleman’s stirring piece, Umoja, was the first classical work by a living African American woman performed by the orchestra, last fall.
Tarnopolsky said the conversation element is being convened in part to “help ask questions, to know which questions to ask. We need to be listening more acutely now and much more purposefully to chart a path to equity throughout our community.”
Saturday night’s online event will be dedicated to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, “and the countless Black Lives wrongfully and tragically lost before them, and to the value and dignity of all Black Lives,” the orchestra said in a letter sent Thursday to its constituents, signed by Tarnopolsky and music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
To various extents over the past two decades, the orchestra has been active in developing concerts and programs that meet underserved communities in the city and neighborhoods. It has commissioned numerous works from black composers, and recently has made women an integral part of its programming and conducting staff.
The composition of the ensemble itself, however, has been slow to change. In a city that is about 44% black, the orchestra itself has only three black members — or 3%.
“We need to do better," said Tarnopolsky. "It’s the Philadelphia Orchestra. We are of Philadelphia. We need to do better.”
As for when or how, he said: “There are ideas. We need to turn ideas into plans. We need to turn those plans into action.”