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Music Makes a City on DVD today, May 24

Music Makes a City, a “tale of artistic vision” (Symphony), is released today on DVD. The feature-length documentary film tells a tale of civic aspiration, cultural ingenuity, and how Louisville, Kentucky became the world’s unlikely capital of new music in the 1950s. According to Sedgwick Clark, of, “anyone interested in classical music should see this uplifting story of American ingenuity at its best.
In 1948, a small, struggling, semi-professional orchestra in Louisville, Kentucky began a novel project to commission new works from contemporary composers around the world. The project grew far beyond anyone’s expectations. In 1953, the orchestra received an unprecedented $400,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to commission 52 compositions a year for three years. The new works were to be performed in weekly concerts and recorded for sale by subscription. The architect of this ambitious artistic venture was Louisville Mayor Charles Farnsley who had a deep love of cultural expressions of all kinds as well as boundless enthusiasm and an inexhaustible bank of new ideas. Farnsley, professing to be guided by the philosophical principles of the Chinese sage Confucius, found a willing partner for his plans in Robert Whitney, the young conductor who had arrived in Louisville in 1937 to lead the fledgling orchestra. Over the years, nearly every living composer of note would be commissioned and recorded by the Louisville Orchestra.
Music Makes a City is a wonderful weave of archival footage and anecdotes from veteran Louisville musicians and civic figures. The film features interviews with some of the project’s key participants: iconic American composers Ned Rorem, Lukas Foss, Chou Wen-chung, Harold Shapero, and Elliott Carter – the last of whom gave an extensive interview (at the age of 100) expressly for the documentary, recalling his experience of composing for Louisville a piece that remains one of his most popular: 1955’s Variations for Orchestra.
Directed by Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler

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