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march on washington

Birthday Quartet


 for Violin, Clarinet in A, Cello, and Piano
or Violin, Viola, Cello, and Piano

Composed May 9--October 20, 2013; new last movement, Aug. 29--Oct. 5, 2015
Duration: about 30 minutes                Photo above: March on Washington, 1963

Recording from Feb. 18, 2014 concert with Xi Yang, violin; Fred Jacobowitz, clarinet; Bonnie Thron, cello; and Thomas Warburton, piano.  This performance was of all four movements, but I have discarded the last movement and replaced it in October 2015; so this video is of the first three movements only.
video (YouTube) 

Clarinet Quartet Score, legal size     Cover  

Clarinet Quartet Score, letter size    Cover       Clarinet Quartet Parts 

Piano Quartet Score, legal size     Cover

Piano Quartet Score, letter size    Cover            Piano Quartet Parts

I. How Long? Not Long        

      And they're off     [8:32]  MP3 recording   

II. Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi swaha        

      Adagio mahayana     [7:58]   MP3 recording     

III. Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Coming
    of the Lord      

      Picco di montagna    [7:51]   MP3 recording   

IV. August 28         Tempo I, II, III, IV, III     [9:16]                                             

        In early 2010, I had a peculiar dream of a respectful conversation with Elvis Presley. He said I should write a symphony based on speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. Well—who can refuse the King of Rock and/or Roll? Especially since I share my birthday, January 15, with MLK, and classical radio stations frequently play a composer's music on his birthday.

        The speeches of Martin Luther King are copyrighted, and the MLK Center is notoriously litigious. Thus this cannot be a choral work, nor can it have direct references to texts in the score. Instead I use the rhythms and inflections from speeches that are incorporated in themes. The first movement uses a few phrases from the “How long? Not long” speech of March 25, 1965 at the Alabama State Capitol. The second movement is based on the Buddhist mantra “Gate gate, paragate, parasamgate, bhodi swaha”; this can be roughly translated (as by Ram Dass) as “Beyond, beyond the beyond, beyond the beyond the beyond, hail the goer.” The third movement returns to MLK and uses bits of the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech given on April 3, 1968 in Memphis Tennessee. The first version of the fourth movement (started writing it Aug. 28, 2013) used the final section of the Dream Speech given at the March on Washington on August 28, 1968, with narrator.  After hearing the chamber version, I thought this first version of the fourth movement was not suitable, and I withdrew it.

        On August 29, 2015, I started writing a second version of the last movement. The beginning uses the rhythm of the words “And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” The music then departs from the text, with the motives from “table of brotherhood” and “I have a dream” used repeatedly. Next comes “Let freedom ring” along with other phrases from the speech. The movement closes with “Free at last, free at last (repeated), thank God almighty we are free at last!”

             After writing the two chamber versions, I orchestrated the score as Birthday Symphony, which was performed by the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra in 2016; the last movement was performed by the Durham Symphony. However, I was displeased with my orchestration, and in 2023 I withdrew the symphonic version.

        The premiere performance of this piece was of the chamber edition for violin, clarinet, cello and piano on February 18, 2014, with the original fourth movement, without narrator. As the fourth movement is now very different, I have removed the first version of that movement from the recordings and the video offered here.

Musician Biographies

Xi Yang began his distinguished music career when he was a student at the Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China where he studied both violin and viola Performance. He had his first solo debut when he was 9 years old. By the age of 12 he made an average of 200 solo appearances a year in China. He won the National Violin Competition in Shanghai and made his solo debut with the Beijing Philharmonic Orchestra. He then, toured China with the Beijing Youth Symphony as a soloist and concertmaster. 

Arriving in the United States, Mr. Yang won a National Strings Competition in Arkansas and has performed numerous solo recitals, chamber music concerts and gave master classes to young string players from many public schools and colleges. A graduate of Indiana University School of Music, he studied violin performance and chamber music ensemble, from baroque style to modern composers, under the guidance of James Buswell, Nelli Shkolnikova, Josef Gingold and Rostislav Dubinsky. Mr. Yang was the violinist and then Principal Violist for the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, Florida Grand Opera and the Principal Viola with the Symphony of the Americas. He was the assistant concertmaster and conductor with the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra and Principal Violist with the Carolina Philharmonic. A well established violinist and violist in North Carolina and beyond, he performed solo concerts with some of the major Orchestras in China. Sadly, Xi Yang died at age 53 in 2019. 

Fred Jacobowitz received his Bachelors and Masters degrees from the Juilliard School, where he studied with the late Leon Russianoff. He made his New York Debut at Carnegie Recital Hall (now Weill Hall) as winner of the Artists International Competition. He was a featured soloist on radio stations WBAI and WQXR in New York City, with the Goldman Band, and in recital throughout the Metropolitan New York area. As a chamber musician, he has participated in the Marlboro Music Festival and played in the Verrazano Winds Woodwind Quintet in Brooklyn, New York. Mr. Jacobowitz was Principal Clarinetist in the Annapolis (Maryland) Symphony Orchestra from 1989-2002. He is equally at home in the worlds of Classical, Jazz and Folk, having performed and recorded with his Kol Haruach Klezmer Band (www.kolharuach.com) and his duo, Ebony and Ivory (www.ebonyandivory.ca). Mr. Jacobowitz now resides in Raleigh, NC, where (when not performing out of town) he teaches and freelances, and he can often be heard playing concerts with his wife, North Carolina Symphony Principal ‘Cellist Bonnie Thron. He runs his own business, Case Closed (www.case-closed.us), fixing musical instrument cases and is a sometime Little League Baseball Umpire.

Bonnie Thron; Principal cellist of the North Carolina Symphony, Bonnie has been a concerto soloist with many orchestras in North Carolina, New England, Maryland and Panama. She has been a soloist and frequent collaborator with the Brussels Chamber Orchestra during their summer North Carolina residencies. Bonnie plays with the Mallarme Chamber Players and was involved in their latest cd release "Songs for the Soul" which consists of music by African American composers. Formerly a member of the Peabody Trio and the Denver Symphony, she also performed with the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble and Speculum Musicae in NYC. She has been a frequent guest artist with the Apple Hill Chamber Players in her home state of New Hampshire and participates every August in the Sebago Long Lake Music Festival in Harrison, Maine. As well as degrees from the Juilliard School, Bonnie also has a BSN from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and worked for several years as a nurse in Baltimore.

Tom Warburton retired in May of 2005 after 36 years on the musicology faculty at the University of North Carolina.  There he taught a variety of courses, both in music history and music theory; he also received two teaching awards.  He has published on a variety of topics, several in recent years concerning music of the United States during the twentieth century.  For three years he was organist at Trinity United Methodist Church in Durham and for seven years he served as Minister of Music at First Presbyterian Church, where he conducted the Adult and Handbell Choirs.