SMU’s Meadows School of The Arts to present two premieres at “Meadows at the Winspear” benefit concert, May 11

SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts will present two premieres at its 23rd annual benefit concert, “The 2016 Meadows at the Winspear,” at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 11.

Appalachian Spring by Martha Graham performed by the SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts will present two premieres at its 23rd annual benefit concert, “The 2016 Meadows at the Winspear,” at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 11 in the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. in Dallas.

Appalachian Spring by Martha Graham performed by the SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble
The Meadows Dance Ensemble performing Appalachian Spring

The concert will feature the critically acclaimed Meadows Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of conductor Paul Phillips, and the Meadows Dance Ensemble, composed of top students from the Meadows School’s nationally respected dance program, in both works.  

The first is the premiere of a newly envisioned choreography of Stravinsky’s Firebird, created by Claudia Lavista and Victor Manuel Ruiz, noted artistic directors of the acclaimed Delfos Danza Contemporanea in Mazatlán, Mexico. The second is Martha Graham’s ballet masterpiece Appalachian Spring, featuring the world premiere of the newly completed, full orchestra version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning music by Aaron Copland. For the first time, audiences will be able to enjoy Graham’s iconic choreography accompanied by music played by a full symphony.

The annual spring concert also honors a community leader, and this year’s honoree is noted arts and civic patron Donna Wilhelm. The 2016 event chair is Heather Esping and the honorary chair is Melissa Fetter.

The event benefits the Meadows Scholars Program at Meadows School of the Arts and, this year, a number of donors have also contributed to the newly established Donna Wilhelm Endowed Scholarship Fund. Beginning this fall, the Wilhelm Fund will provide SMU Meadows scholarships to highly qualified students from underrepresented ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Meadows at the Winspear is the pinnacle of our performance season,” said Samuel Holland, dean of the Meadows School. “Not only will talented students in dance and music collaborate in presenting two extraordinary premieres, they will do so in a world-class venue. We’re honored to give the first performance of Copland’s iconic work with full symphony orchestra and to present a moving reinterpretation of Firebird based on a theme of migration and human displacement – reflecting our philosophy that art can become a form of social action. We are also delighted to honor Donna Wilhelm – a committed supporter of the arts in education whose work has had an impact not only on SMU but on all of North Texas – and to inaugurate the new scholarship fund in her name.”

The evening program opens with Appalachian Spring, one of Martha Graham’s signature works. Written at the end of World War II, it is a depiction of Americana. The story tells of a spring celebration set in 19th-century Pennsylvania as a young bride arrives in her new home. When Appalachian Spring first premiered in 1944, Graham danced the lead role to music written by Aaron Copland, originally created for a 13-piece chamber orchestra to accommodate the acoustic limitations and size of the orchestra pit of the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, where the ballet was first performed.  In the years following, Copland created multiple versions of his most celebrated piece, which won him the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1945. In the same year, Copland created an orchestral suite that was a condensed version of the original ballet score, with one large section of music and a few smaller ones omitted. Until now, a fully orchestrated score to match Graham’s original choreography has not existed. The Copland Fund commissioned David Newman to orchestrate the missing sections of music. 

Paul Phillips
Paul Phillips conducting the Meadows Symphony Orchestra

Newman has worked in collaboration with Philip Rothman, program advisor to the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and Aaron Sherber, music director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, to painstakingly create this new score, ensuring that it is faithful to Copland’s original intent. Boosey & Hawkes, publisher of the previous versions of the score, will create a newly engraved edition of the version for full orchestra.

The Meadows Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Paul Phillips, will be the first orchestra to perform the new material and will also act as “test drivers” for the score, helping to inform any corrections required before the music is published.

“We are so pleased to bring this new version of Copland’s classic work to life, with the assistance of the Meadows School,” said Sherber. “Appalachian Spring is one of the most beloved pieces of American music, and I think it will bring new meaning to Graham’s iconic choreography to see it performed with the full orchestral sound that most audiences are familiar with.”

The second half of the program features the premiere of a newly choreographed version of Igor Stravinsky’s 1910 classic The Firebird, created by noted Mexican choreographers Claudia Lavista and Victor Manuel Ruiz, artistic directors of Delfos Danza Contemporanea in Mazatlán. They have replaced the magical and mercurial glowing bird of Russian folklore with a more contemporary version of Stravinsky’s masterwork, inspired by the visual aesthetics of Hieronymus Bosch and the theme of migration. For example, at one point dancers move under an undulating fabric “ocean” covered with dozens of ordinary household goods – a toaster, a lamp, a doll – alluding to the displacement of both people and things. Equal parts visual poetry and choreographic expression, the work provides a universe of symbols interwoven in a series of vignettes that allow for an open interpretation by audience members.

About Donna Wilhelm

Donna Wilhelm
Donna Wilhelm

Event honoree Donna Wilhelm is an active supporter of the Dallas community, the arts and SMU. She has served numerous North Texas organizations, including the Dallas Theater Center, KERA Public Broadcasting, SMU Meadows School of the Arts, TACA, Nasher Sculpture Center, Big Thought and the World Affairs Council of DFW. Her strategic leadership is focused on a twofold mission: to transform Dallas into an arts mecca and to keep the arts strong in education. As chair of TACA, Wilhelm founded The New Works Fund, which supports the creation and production of new work in North Texas. At SMU, she helped spearhead the first-of-its-kind National Center for Arts Research (NCAR), established to be the leading provider of evidence-based insights that enable arts and cultural leaders to overcome challenges and increase impact. At KERA, Wilhelm was the founding donor of Art&Seek, public broadcasting’s public service for community arts awareness. Wilhelm is committed to claiming a stronger foothold for the arts in education, believing arts enlightenment gives students of all ages the ability to think outside the box. Noting that creative thinking finds new solutions to old problems, she said, “We need to use the power of the arts to open our world and connect minds across boundaries.”

About the Meadows Scholars Program

The Meadows Scholars Program was inaugurated in 2008 to recruit the brightest and most talented students nationwide to the Meadows School of the Arts, and is targeted to applicants who are accepted to Meadows and who meet both stringent academic and artistic/leadership criteria. While such high achievers often receive SMU academic scholarship awards, many of them are still unable to afford full tuition. The Meadows Scholars Program offers an additional annual scholarship, plus an exploration grant that can be used any time during their years at Meadows for a creative project, providing a significant incentive for them to choose SMU and Dallas. The program has greatly helped SMU compete successfully against such schools as Northwestern, Juilliard and Yale for top creative talent. 

Ticket and Sponsorship Information

Tickets to the “Meadows at the Winspear” concert are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $17 for students and SMU faculty and staff. They are available through the AT&T Center for the Performing Arts box office; call 214-880-0202.

For SMU alumni, a concert ticket that includes a post-concert dessert and champagne reception is available for $50; $25 of the ticket price supports the Meadows Scholars Program. Call the Meadows Development Office at 214-768-4189 for alumni ticket information.

Patron and corporate sponsorships with special benefits and seating packages are available from $1,500 to $30,000.  In addition, the Meadows Scholars level recognizes those who either permanently endow a Meadows Scholar at $150,000 or who make a $30,000 commitment to fund an individual Meadows Scholarship over four years. For more information, call the Meadows Development Office at 214-768-4189.