Conductor Jeri Lynne Johnson Makes NatPhil Debut With Coleman and Dvořák in February

The performance is on February 10 at Strathmore.

By: Jan. 24, 2024
Conductor Jeri Lynne Johnson Makes NatPhil Debut With Coleman and Dvořák in February

National Philharmonic (NatPhil) presents guest conductor Jeri Lynne Johnson in her debut with the Orchestra on Saturday, February 10 at 7:30 p.m. at The Music Center at Strathmore. Johnson leads a classical program that includes Valerie Coleman's Phenomenal Women: Concerto for Wind Quintet Soli and Chamber Orchestra—with the composer herself as one of five wind soloists—and Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 7. Tickets are currently on sale at


“From the Philadelphia Orchestra to the Bournemouth Symphony to the Weimar Staatskapelle, Jeri Lynne Johnson has conducted some of the finest orchestras in the world,” stated NatPhil Music Director Piotr Gajewski. “As a Black woman, she brings a unique perspective to the music of Black composers, making her the perfect choice to introduce our audience to Valerie Coleman's Phenomenal Women. We're thrilled to have her work with us for the first time by curating and leading this program.”


With this NatPhil appearance, Jeri Lynne Johnson returns to the D.C. area for the first time since conducting Pulitzer Prize-winner Tania León's Stride as part of the composer's Kennedy Center Honors tribute in 2022. Johnson, lauded by the Los Angeles Times as “a stunning, rhythmically vital conductor,” made history in 2005 when she was awarded the Taki Alsop Conducting Fellowship, becoming the first Black woman to win an international conducting prize. Since then, she has continued to break barriers in the United States and Europe as the first Black woman on the podium at numerous major orchestras. She is also founder of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra in Philadelphia, which has been internationally recognized as a leading innovator in meaningful community engagement.


Drawing its title from Maya Angelou's 1995 book, Valerie Coleman's Phenomenal Women comprises five movements, each dedicated to a woman Coleman finds particularly inspiring: Angelou herself, NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, tennis champion Serena Williams, former First Lady Michelle Obama, and Olympic gold medal-winning boxer Claressa Shields. Coleman writes: “Each movement contains an overview of pivotal moments and characteristics found within the lives of each ‘shero,' that serve as catalysts from which main movements emerge and develop.” In addition to these five musical portraits, the central movement of the concerto is dedicated to mothers in the caravan of migrants headed to the United States, fighting to reclaim their children.


Phenomenal Women was premiered on November 2, 2018 at Carnegie Hall, performed by American Composers Orchestra with Imani Winds as solo wind quintet, after which The New York Times praised the work's “memorable freshness and color.” The world premiere was followed by an Orpheus Chamber Orchestra performance in 2019 at the Library of Congress. For the February 10 performance at Strathmore, NatPhil and Coleman (flute) are joined by wind soloists Mariam Adam (clarinet), Alexander Davis (bassoon), Katherine Needleman (oboe), and Priscilla Rinehart (horn).


Closing the program is Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 7, one of the composer's most popular symphonies, and one of his most dramatic and emotional works. The symphony was commissioned by the Philharmonic Society in London—the same orchestra for which Beethoven had written his Symphony No. 9—and Dvořák was aware of the distinction and renown this commission could potentially bring. Accordingly, he did his utmost to create a symphony that would surpass all his previous works, writing that the Seventh Symphony “must be capable of stirring the world, and may God grant that it will!” He was undoubtedly successful; the influential 20th-century music critic Donald Francis Tovey wrote of the symphony: “I have no hesitation in setting Dvořák's Seventh Symphony…as among the greatest and purest examples in this art-form since Beethoven.”


Johnson said, “I am excited to be making my National Philharmonic debut with this amazing piece by Valerie Coleman! I have been a fan of her work for many years and am looking forward to performing this impressive work for the audiences at the equally impressive Music Center at Strathmore. Part of what will make this such a unique experience for the audience and the Orchestra will be having the composer not just in attendance, but on stage as one of the soloists. Ending the concert with one of the most dramatic and exciting works in the orchestral literature (and one of my personal favorites!)—Dvořák's Symphony No. 7—will leave audiences breathless and inspired!”