Two centennial celebrations will be commemorated by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, tying music and history together in a unique and inspired way. On Thursday, January 30 and Saturday, February 1, Music Director Ward Stare and the orchestra will present “Women’s Suffrage: Past + Present” and on Thursday, February 6 and Saturday, February 8, Stare will lead a concert performance of Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s salute to Susan B. Anthony, “The Mother of Us All.” The events will be held at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre at the Eastman School of Music.
The two performances celebrate historical events that are rooted in Rochester and Western New York. 2020 marks suffragist Susan B. Anthony’s 200th birthday, as well as the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, which enshrined a women’s right to vote in the U.S. Constitution.
The first two concerts feature orchestral compositions by three women spanning three centuries: Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, from the 19th century; Julia Perry, from the 20th century; and Gemma Peacocke, a New Zealand-born composer from the 21st century.
Peacocke’s work “All on Fire” is a commission from Stare and the RPO, and was inspired by a quote from Susan B. Anthony: “How can you not be all on fire?…I really believe I shall explode if some of you young women don’t wake up — and raise your voice in protest against the impending crime of this nation upon the new islands it has clutched from other folks. Do come into the living present and work to save us from any more barbaric male governments.”
Stare has high hopes for the brand-new piece, as well as the first of two performance weekends. “I hope this first half demonstrates the huge variety of music by women composers,” Stare said. “Regardless of the composer’s gender, these are simply very good pieces.”
The second weekend of performances includes the Virgil Thomson opera “The Mother of Us All,” from Librettist Gertrude Stein, which has been produced occasionally since premiering at Columbia University in 1947. The opera is about Susan B. Anthony but also includes a large cast including Daniel Webster, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Supreme Court Chief Justice Thaddeus Stevens, among other minor historical figures.
Ward Stare notes that his preparation for these upcoming concerts included a private tour of the Susan B. Anthony House on Madison Street, which he found very moving. “To see the room where she met Frederick Douglass and other great figures — and the work room where she wrote so many amazing pamphlets — made me even more appreciative of everything Anthony went through in her life.”