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Full premiere of Marsalis symphony delayed again


The world premiere of Wynton Marsalis’ “Blues Symphony,” scheduled for performances Nov. 19-22 by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, has been postponed.

Again. For the third time.

The reason? Marsalis continues to blow his deadline. He has completed just four of the planned seven movements — and sent them to ASO music director Robert Spano — but the rest hasn’t been put on paper.

For the Nov. 19-22 concerts, the ASO will perform at least two movements, which are polished and ready to go. The other two movements may or may not be ready to perform.

The new date for the completed work is now penciled in as January 14, 2010, part of the ASO’s annual “A King Celebration” concert at Morehourse College, the yearly commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. Those concerts are typically recorded by public radio’s “Performance Today” and broadcast nationally on the King holiday.

Two years ago, the jazz trumpeter, bandleader, educator and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer was commissioned by the ASO and the Boston Symphony to write a large orchestral work. Marsalis’ plan was bold: it would be his first purely symphonic score, without his on-stage participation and without an improvising jazz combo. As he discussed his ambition with Spano and others, it grew in scope and length. It’s now supposed to be almost an hour in length.

Originally scheduled for summer 2008, it was postponed to fall 2008. When it hadn’t appear, the ASO pushed it to Nov. 2009.

Writing the symphony out of order, Marsalis has completed two movements that are musically related — a Ragtime and a Danzón — both in the key of D-flat. In a program note describing the former, the composer hints at his love of vernacular American music and also at his creative uncertainty. It’s ragtime, he writes, “like Jopin’s ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ and begins as a waltz….The last choruses are written to Jelly Roll Morton’s ‘King Porter Stomp’ harmonic turnaround. As the turnaround repeats, this movement builds to a shout chorus, train whistle, New Orleans stomp-riff-last march strain-Sousa stride tag. Or something like that. I think.”

Pierre Ruhe blogs about music on

4 comments Add your comment

Ella F

November 12th, 2009
8:24 pm

Such disrespect is unbecoming. You are a blogger. Do you even have a sense of what is entailed in composing and orchestrating a full symphony of the highest order? You position it as if Mr. Marsalis is lazing about and ‘blowing his deadline’ because he is just an unorganized or undisciplined amateur. His history of accomplishment and prolific works assure us this is not the case. Sure it’s disappointing for the Atlanta Symphony but most great artists don’t create just to please the calendar, they are doing work that is coming from within- not easy. You’d do well to tone it down a bit and give a bit of respect to what Marsalis is obviously trying to accomplish- something new and not done before. Or try your hand at it yourself and see just how easy it is.


November 22nd, 2009
2:10 pm

No, but Mr. Marsalis has now failed to meet a deadline THREE times. Prolific composer or not, if he wasn’t going to be ready, he shouldn’t have agreed to the deadlines.

No one wants him to rush and submit mediocre work simply because of a deadline, but when people have already purchased tickets to an event, repeatedly letting people down is more than just disappointing.

No one is saying his job is easy … we would just have rather heard him say “I’m composing a work and I don’t know when it will be ready.” I can excuse him once, but not three times.


November 23rd, 2009
8:22 am

I heard this dud on Friday evening, and he should stick to playing trumpet. At least there his emotionless style is offset by his brilliant command of the instrument. This ’symphony’ is a joke, and clearly what happens when you give someone with limited composition ability a chunk of money and some cool composition software. There are many, *many* examples of good American composers of all ethnicities and genders whose work would light up the night with the ASO. As far as something new, and not done before – that may apply to Mr. Marsalis, but only to him. Maybe he should leave it to people who know their art and craft. Even though I’m not really a ‘fan’, I was actually looking forward to seeing what he came up with. And it was, in fact, a disappointment.

George McAlpin

November 23rd, 2009
5:41 pm

Yup, here he goes again.. Mr. Pierre RUDE, SUCH little respect for the artists he thibnks he has the craft ti review, it really IS time he retired. He used to sound bitter, now he sounds bitter AND twisted…… sad really.