The Mann’s Philadelphia Freedom Festival drew to a close with two final events last month: the central Gospel Meets Symphony concert, presented at the Mann on July 19, and a young people’s concert, presented on July 28.
Gospel Meets Symphony, the festival’s signature event, showcased the world premiere of The Passion of Octavius Catto, a work inspired by the historical Catto’s life and achievements and commissioned by the Mann from Philadelphia classical and jazz composer Uri Caine. The piece was performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra, soprano Barbara Walker, and a Philadelphia Freedom Festival Community Choir composed of nearly 200 community members. Orchestra and Choir also performed a trilogy of traditional spirituals arranged by Festival Artistic Director Rev. Nolan Williams, Jr., and they accompanied the legendary gospel star Marvin Sapp in a selection of such hits as “Never Would Have Made It.” It was truly an unforgettable evening, presented completely free of charge and attended by an estimated 7,200 people.
In a review, the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that The Passion of Octavius Catto “had the bounce of gospel, the derring-do of jazz and blues, and enough flaming dissonance to conjure up the difficulties in Catto’s amazing life…The amazing thing was how much life and vitality was conveyed in the music. The sold-out audience…exulted to the gospel-drenched importuning of ‘We Know No East nor West,’ drawn from a Catto speech on voting rights.” Audience members, in post-concert surveys, overwhelmingly rated the concert “extremely enjoyable” and said things like, “The performance was thrilling. The information on O.V. Catto was exceptional!” and “Please consider doing this again. I ESPECIALLY loved the history lesson.” Gospel Meets Symphony successfully drew a new and diverse audience to the Mann, for many of whom the concert was their first orchestral experience.
All together, an estimated 17,000 people of all ages attended the Philadelphia Freedom Festival’s twelve events over the course of six months. More than 100 community partners—including artists, ensembles, churches, community organizations, and individuals—played key roles in the project. The festival was an unqualified success, and the Mann is deeply grateful to the many participants and supporters, including New Music USA, who made the project possible. Thank you!