Poster Composer Julia Perry
Conductor James Blachly leads the Experiential Orchestra alongside violinist Curtis Stewart in the world premiere recording of Julia Perry’s Violin Concerto on their new album, ‘American Counterpoints.’
New Classical Tracks®

James Blachly and Curtis Stewart premiere Julia Perry's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra

New Classical Tracks (extended interview) - Curtis Stewart and James Blachly
New Classical Tracks - Curtis Stewart and James Blachly
New Classical Tracks - March 6, 2024

James Blachly/Experiential Orchestra/Curtis Stewart – American Counterpoints: Julia Perry and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (Bright Shiny Things)

“The first time I was at the New York Times, I was a 5-year-old taking a picture of myself playing a sackbut, the medieval version of the trombone,” conductor James Blachly says. “And I just played one note because my parents were medieval and Renaissance specialists.”

Blachly is the music director of the Experiential Orchestra, an ensemble that “invites audiences to engage with orchestral music through nontraditional presentation styles.” Recently, Blachly and violinist Curtis Stewart embarked on an exciting journey together.

“I was born in Helsinki, Finland,” Stewart says. “My mom was going to school at the Bass Academy there. She was a violinist and composer, and my dad is a jazz tuba player. He was on tour and they met in Finland, and I was born there.”

The two collaborated on the world premiere recording of Julia Perry’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, released just in time to mark her centennial birthday.

“When [Blachly] called me about being the soloist on this project, I said, ‘Yes!’ He barely got the sentence out, and I said, ‘Yes, let’s do it!’”

What is Perry’s story, and why do we need to know about her and her music?

Blachly: “She considered herself a composer and she didn't want to be seen as a teacher. On her passport, she actually wrote, ‘Julia Perry, composer.’ It was really a part of her identity. And what we see in Perry is both this meteoric rise as a young musician and as a young composer with really tremendous opportunities and tremendous accomplishments and celebration and recognition. And then a series of health concerns left her, at the end of her life, destitute, living in her mother's house and continuing to compose despite there being no real interest in her music.

“She had a series of strokes. She couldn't compose with her right hand anymore. She had to learn how to write out with her left hand in this shaky way. Her hand was so shaky that she couldn't write a [musical] note head, so she had to write the letter name of the note next to approximately where the note was.

“She continued to compose and continued to have no hesitation about the value of her work, in fact she went back and revised the violin concerto in 1977, just two years before she died. And for us to have the privilege of creating the world premiere recording of that piece is really one of the great privileges, certainly of my career.”

Stewart: “So the album that I put out last year is called Of Love and it is about my mom. I was her caretaker for four years. She was my inspiration. She was a violinist and composer, and she was stricken with brain cancer. Even as I was trying to write with her, she'd be at the piano and would just play two notes over and over again. And that type of focus on these two notes kind of reminded me of experiences trying to explore this Perry piece where there are a lot of repetitive moments. It's hard for me not treat this piece in a personal way, doing some form of justice to this work and really finding my way into it.”

How does this work flow, and what does it feel like to play it?

Stewart: “There are 17 kinds of mini-sections that are delineated by tempo shifts. And actually, that part is very difficult. James and I have gone back and forth several times talking about ‘how do we make these little shifts happen?’ That's the most fun part of interpreting her work.

“The main theme is a major third moving to a major seventh that's a tritone away. There's a solo violin cadenza at the start that states all the themes in about a minute or two's time that the whole the rest of the work is totally, ingeniously reworked around those themes in every way, shape or form.

“There's a section where I'm playing really fast stuff for a really long time. And it just keeps going for, like, a minute. It's really hard. I mean, violin wise, it's just like, ‘Thank you, Julia. I am now a better violinist because of you. I appreciate you.’”


James Blachly/Experiential Orchestra/Curtis Stewart – American Counterpoints: Julia Perry and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (Bright Shiny Things)

James Blachly/Experiential Orchestra/Curtis Stewart – American Counterpoints: Julia Perry and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (Amazon)

James Blachly (official site)

Experiential Orchestra (official site)

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