Since the start of its related programming in February 2014, the Mann Center for the Performing Arts' Philadelphia Freedom Festival has celebrated the life and work of Philadelphia-based civil rights activist Octavius Catto, alongside the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act. On July 19, crowds gathered to a sold-out festival finale, "Gospel Meets Symphony." The finale concert began with the world premiere of a large-scale commissioned work by 2003 Pew Fellow Uri Caine, which combines classical, spiritual, and gospel music, and ended with a solo performance from gospel singer Dr. Marvin Sapp.
Supported by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, the Philadelphia Freedom Festival has evoked themes of freedom and brotherhood, and has honored the legacy of Catto, an early and oft-unsung activist. The project has also included school workshops, church meeting revivals, a master class, a scholarly panel, and the Catto Youth Freedom Project. The festival finale concert received widespread media attention, in anticipation of the event and after.
For the Philadelphia Tribune, Chanel Hill describes the historical significance of Octavius Catto and details the "Gospel Meets Symphony" program. Hill quotes chorus master Jay Fluellen: "We will see the full organic mix of expression of gospel music that will include a blend of classical, jazz, spiritual, traditional and contemporary music...Philadelphia is a culturally rich city. This show is shedding light on so many different facets of African-American culture." Read more >
Philadelphia Inquirer music critic David Patrick Stearns explores Uri Caine's community-focused role in "Gospel Meets Symphony." Caine's background as "a jazz musician unafraid to improvise on classical composers" helps him blend history and music, keeping performers and the occasion for composition in mind as the starting point for creating form and style. Read more >
After attending the finale concert, Karl Stark writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer, "Gospel Meets Symphony" had the bounce of gospel, the derring-do of jazz and blues, and enough flaming dissonance to conjure up the difficulties in Catto's amazing life...the amazing thing was how much life and vitality was conveyed in the music." Read more >