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“Music Makes a City” – Award-winning documentary – comes to PBS on Fri, Jan 24

Music Makes a City (2010) – “a tale of artistic vision and civic commitment told through local voices, vintage photos, and interviews with key figures” (Symphony) – makes its national broadcast debut when it airs on PBS on Friday, January 24 (check local listings). The Gramophone Award-winning documentary tells the story of Louisville, Kentucky, and how it became, however improbably, the new-music capital of the world in the 1950s, serving as a spiritual home for composers from Hindemith and Villa-Lobos to Henry Cowell and Elliott Carter. On its cinematic release, the New York Times pronounced Music Makes a City “enlightening,” and the New Yorker’s Alex Ross praised its “fascinating insights into the cultural life of an American city.” As Musical America put it, “Anyone interested in classical music should see this uplifting story of American ingenuity at its best.
Co-director and co-producer Owsley Brown III explains:
“We are very proud to bring Music Makes a City to PBS this January. After years of extensive research, my co-director Jerome Hiler and I uncovered a story that shows the power of the arts to transform and enrich communities. It is our hope that this film will inspire civic leaders, artists and arts organizations to embrace the arts as a means for growth and prosperity.”
As the New York Times observes, “A singular harmonic convergence is recounted in Music Makes A City. … In striking synchronicity, a mayor, a conductor, and a robust postwar generation of composers intersected to make the city a hub for visionary composition.” Their story began in 1948, when the small, struggling, semi-professional Louisville Orchestra started commissioning new works from contemporary composers around the world. The architect of this innovative project was Louisville’s visionary mayor, Charles Farnsley, who found a willing partner in Robert Whitney, a young conductor who first came to the city in 1937 to lead the nascent orchestra. Their ambitious venture soon exceeded all expectations. In 1953, the orchestra received an unprecedented $400,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to commission 52 compositions a year for three years (including a new piece for legendary dancer-choreographer Martha Graham), to be performed in weekly concerts and recorded for sale by subscription. Over the next several years, nearly every living composer of note would be commissioned and recorded by the Louisville Orchestra, which earned 19 ASCAP awards for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music. Unprecedented at the time, the project’s cultural legacy remains unmatched to this day.
Winner of the 2012 Gramophone Award for Best DVD Documentary, Music Makes a City interweaves archival footage, anecdotes from veteran Louisville musicians and civic figures, and exclusive interviews with some of the project’s key participants: iconic American composers Lukas Foss, Chou Wen-chung, Gunther Schuller, and the late Elliott Carter, who was 100 years old when he gave an extensive interview describing the creation for Louisville of one of his most enduringly popular works, 1955’s Variations for Orchestra.
A trailer for the PBS broadcast of Music Makes a City and excerpts from the composer interviews are provided here, while the feature-length director’s cut – complete with extended composer interviews and other bonus features – is now available on DVD from the PBS store. Photographic images are available here; please contact Laura Malick Bren for further info, [email protected].


DIRECTORS | Owsley Brown III & Jerome Hiler

PRODUCERS | Owsley Brown III & Robin Burke

CO-PRODUCERS | Cornelia Calder & Anne Flatté

EDITORS | Anne Flatté & Nathaniel Dorsky

WRITER | Jerome Hiler

NARRATOR | Will Oldham

PBS broadcast: Friday, January 24 (check local listings)
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© 21C Media Group, January 2014


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