Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

University City Symphony Orchestra Takes on 'Invitation to a Die-In'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

University City Symphony Orchestra Takes on 'Invitation to a Die-In'

Article excerpt

Most of the music on Sunday afternoon's concert by the University City Symphony Orchestra is conventional enough.

Led by music director Leon Burke III, the orchestra will perform the Saxophone Concerto by Kenneth Fuchs, performed by Ryan Janus of the Scott Air Force Base Band, for whom it was composed; and guitarist Bill Hopkins as the soloist in "Miquija," for guitar and strings by Venezuelan composer Francisco de Paul Magdaleno. After the intermission comes Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat, with pianist Timothy Jansen as soloist.

And then there's a piece that's decidedly out of the ordinary: Just before the intermission, the orchestra will perform New York-based composer Nkeiru Okoye's 2017 work "Invitation to a Die-In." A piece of musical performance art, it's intended to memorialize the lives of unarmed black men lost in encounters with law enforcement.

Burke has led the UCSO for more than 20 of its 50-plus years. A bass, he also sings in, and is assistant director of, the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. He leads the Belleville Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, is the choir director at Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood, teaches voice at East Central College in Union and runs his own business.

Although the orchestra is relatively small, at 50 members, "they've done some extraordinary things," Burke says. Founded to provide off-season employment for members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, it morphed over the years into a community orchestra with paid section leaders.

Burke was taken with Okoye's opera on the life of Harriet Tubman, "When I Cross That Line to Freedom," and asked her to write something for the UCSO. "She's a fellow Oberlin grad. It was after the Michael Brown shooting, and she was already working on something," he says. "It was this very powerful piece."

With a text by David Cote, a critic and librettist, "it includes elements of different shootings of young black men by police or (other) law enforcement," he says. …

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