American Roots Initiative

American Roots

As part of our commitment to telling stories that provide a deeper understanding of the rich diversity of American music and culture, we created PCE’s American Roots program. Since its inception in 2008, this series has been dedicated to exploring little-known and forgotten chapters in the history of American music, especially the contributions of African-American musicians and composers.

Concerts have included “Free to Sing,” a complete performance of the first American operetta: The Doctor of Alcantara by Julius Eichenberg; the “Dvorak and America” Festival at which our “Hiawatha Melodrama” received its world premiere performance (PCE’s subsequent recording was named one of the best CDs of the year by Minnesota Public Radio.); and a multimedia Harry Burleigh tribute “Deep River: The Art of the Spiritual,” which generated a webcast, a film, and touring productions.

In 2021, PCE presented a season-long project, "The Rediscovery and Renewal of Black Classical Music,” which celebrated long-neglected, consequential composers, for their profound contributions to American orchestral music.  By contextualizing this story in 3 distinct concerts - 1.) where the music came from, 2.) why it disappeared, and 3.) what to make of it today - we reflected on our nation’s complex cultural history and gained insight into nuturing understanding and dialogue. The series included: “The Souls of Black Folk” featuring the world premiere of Florence Price’s Octet for Brasses and Piano, “The Black Virtuoso Traditionwhich included a dazzling repertoire of solo piano pieces by both Black and white American composers inspired by Black vernacular sources, and the DC premier of “Hope in the Night” celebrating composer William Dawson and his masterpiece, Negro Folk Symphony. 

PCE has presented American Roots in collaboration with the Washington National Cathedral, the Phillips Collection, Georgetown University, Howard University, the University of the District of Columbia, the DC Youth Orchestra, Duke Ellington School for the Arts, and many more.