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When guests walk into the Kimmel Center for Thursday’s Philadelphia Orchestra performance, they’ll be greeted by singers, musicians, and an energetic drag queen.
It’s all part of the orchestra’s first-ever Pride concert — which is free for anyone who registers.
Championed by musical director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, an out and proud gay man recently featured as one of Classical FM’s great LGBTQ conductors to know, the evening’s program is made up entirely of pieces by LGBTQ musicians.
Many of the performers are also members of the gay community, like violinist and pianist Davyd Booth, who’s been with the Philadelphia Orchestra for 49 years, and is thrilled about the momentous event.
“Yannick has chosen the program pretty carefully,” Booth said. “I mean, the gay community all over the world and throughout history has contributed not only to our overall life in general, but particularly to the creative arts.”
Throughout history, various composers and musicians kept their LGBTQ identity a secret. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, whose “Swan Lake” selections will be featured, was likely pressured in the 1800s to keep his homosexuality a secret. It was only this century that the famed “Nutcracker” composer’s many letters to his brother about loving other men were published for all to read.
Now Tchaikovsky’s music will fill Verizon Hall in a celebration of the LGBTQ community’s perseverance and strength that also incorporates several other local performers.
The Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus, founded in the 1980s, will join the orchestra in Joseph M. Martin’s “The Awakening” and the Simon and Garfunkel classic “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot will make his Philadelphia Orchestra debut performing John Corigliano’s “The Red Violin,” a piece adapted from his score for a film of the same name that follows the travels of a haunted violin through three centuries.
And Philly drag queen Martha Graham Cracker is also excited to participate, promising the audience a show they’ll never forget.
“This is a beautiful, beautiful thing,” Dito van Reigersberg, the performer who becomes Martha Graham Cracker on stage, said about the orchestra’s event. “In the olden days, all these composers that are going to be played at the show mainly were closeted or people were whispering about them. There was no visibility, there was no pride.”
He added, “It’s just moving to me that we have made some real progress and that people are able to be honest and truthful. What’s better than that?”
Other pieces on the program include Leonard Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide,” Jennifer Higdon’s “Fanfare Ritmico,” and selections from “Souvenirs” by composer Samuel Barber, a West Chester native who graduated from the Curtis Institute.
The Philadelphia Orchestra has been led since 2018 by president and CEO Matías Tarnopolsky, who has earned plaudits for his efforts to diversify the group’s programming and audience with a focus on inclusivity.
“Music can inspire and connect us more deeply to one another; music gives voice to ideas that words alone cannot express,” Tarnopolsky said, calling the Pride concert an exciting opportunity to celebrate Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community.
Booth, the pianist and violinist, said he’s always felt accepted by the orchestra, where “there have always been gay people.” He added that he’s grateful for the opportunity to perform in a show that recognizes this.
“I’m very happy that things have become open so that we can literally have a type of celebration,” Booth said. “I don’t think our lifestyle is any different than anybody else’s.”