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Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Tribute to Nelson Mandela

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Nelson Mandela's recent 90th birthday inspired tributes from around the world, yet none took the form of Chicago's planned celebration, unfolding Monday evening in Millennium Park.

Orbert Davis, a widely admired trumpeter and artistic director of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, presents the world premiere of a four-movement orchestral-vocal suite composed for the occasion. Titled “Hope in Action," the work serves as a tribute to Mandela's achievements and an evocation of his life's journey, says Davis.

The idea for the piece emerged a few years ago, when Davis was reading Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. The book, says Davis, inspired him to ponder Mandela's extraordinary journey from civil rights advocate to political prisoner to president of South Africa. “As I was reading, I was envisioning when he was incarcerated, what that felt like," says the musician. “When he did forced labor and the breaking of rocks, I could hear the rhythm of it. It was just tremendously emotional, as far as coming to grips with what he stood for. “And yet," continues Davis, “after 27 years of imprisonment, he received this freedom and was not bitter."

Davis hopes to convey the nobility of the man and the terrors of his life story with “Hope in Action."

The opening, titled “Rolihlahla" (Mandela's birth name), evokes his early years, and the inevitable anguish of a black man living in apartheid South Africa. “ANC," named for the African National Congress, chronicles the long and arduous struggle for equality and liberation.

“Prisoner 466/64," the title drawn from Mandela's prison number, attempts to explore his emotional state at being confined. “The movement is very dark and expressive," says Davis. “At one point, I was going to call it 'Solitary Confinement'. “

The work concludes with “Fanfare for the Uncommon Man."


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