Philadelphia Orchestra’s annual MLK Tribute Concert goes virtual

Every year, The Philadelphia Orchestra puts on their Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute Concert in partnership with Global Citizen’s Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service. However, 2021’s performance will be a little different with the use of a digital platform being implemented in response to COVID-19. The program, now in its 31st year, will premiere this Monday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. and will be led by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. 

“On behalf of Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and The Philadelphia Orchestra, we are honored to continue this important tradition online this year and to take this opportunity to share a broad range of repertoire that speaks to Dr. King’s vision for a better world,” said Philadelphia Orchestra President and CEO Matías Tarnopolsky in a statement. “In the spirit of the Our City, Your Orchestra series, we also look forward to turning the spotlight on Philadelphians who are doing remarkable work in our communities. Together, we celebrate Dr. King and his legacy, as well as the power of music to bring us together.”

As stated by Tarnopolsky, the Orchestra’s 2021 Martin Luther King, Jr., Tribute Concert is part of the Our City, Your Orchestra series, which features free online concerts performed by small ensembles. The performances are recorded without audiences at Black-owned businesses and iconic cultural locations throughout the region. 

Our City, Your Orchestra. Jeff Fusco

“We strive to be a diverse, equitable, inclusive Orchestra, dedicated to our communities,” said President and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra Matías Tarnopolsky in a statement. “This series highlights the people and businesses throughout the region that do remarkable work, but that are struggling right now. We wanted to partner with them and help tell their stories and amplify their missions through music. These performances are available free of charge on our website and Facebook page.”

For this particular series, the Orchestra has already partnered up with the National Marian Anderson Museum, Harriett’s Bookshop, the Historic Belmont Mansion/Underground Railroad Museum, The Franklin Institute and others. These partnerships were done in a way that not only helps ignite the creative spirit of the city, but also spotlights the organizations being showcased during a time when they need it most.

“It was such a humble blessing for us to be asked to be a part of this wonderful series for the fall season with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Maestro Yannick had already planned something different as part of this year because of everything that the country is going through, and this was a series that he added as a part of the season. We were so honored to be chosen as one of the venues that would feature this partnership and speak to the voice of now and we’re so grateful,” said Jillian Patricia Pirtle, CEO of the National Marian Anderson Museum in a statement at the time of the performance. 

According to the release, for the concert this Monday, the digital performance will feature new performances as well as excerpts from previous Our City, Your Orchestra presentations, including vocalist Patrice Hawthorne and a string quartet performing the spiritual “Go Tell It on the Mountain” from the Historic Belmont Mansion/Underground Railroad Museum and a performance of Ajibola Rivers’s Rumba, from Suite No. 2, from Harriett’s Bookshop. Vocalist Laurin Talese will also join Yannick and the Orchestra for a powerful performance of John Rosamond Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black national anthem, while embers of the Orchestra’s brass sections will perform Giancarlo Castro’s “Diversity.”

In addition, Charlotte Blake Alston will reprise her narration of excerpts from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, set to a previously recorded performance by Yannick and the Orchestra of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The release also states that this “stirring” arrangement has been a staple of the King Day of Service for the past 15 years, and will continue in this online presentation.

“Global Citizen is proud to continue our partnership for the seventh consecutive year with the world-renowned Philadelphia Orchestra,” said Todd Bernstein, president of Global Citizen and founder and director of the King Day of Service in the release. “At such a challenging time, this online musical celebration brings us together in spirit and highlights the Orchestra’s Our City, Your Orchestra series. Under the leadership of Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, this exciting tribute to Dr. King highlights the contributions of Black composers, musicians, and vocal performers, and underscores Dr. King’s legacy of equity and inclusion. Hopefully, next year we will all be together again, in person.”

Our City, Your Orchestra. Jeff Fusco

The broadcast will also highlight prominent Philadelphians who are “carrying on Dr. King’s vital work today.” Those members of the community include founder and owner of Harriett’s Bookshop Jeannine Cook, Pennsylvania State Representative Jordan A. Harris, and Reverend Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Viewers will also hear from those who helped make the concert possible even during a pandemic— Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, President of Global Citizen and Founder and Director of the King Day of Service Todd Bernstein, PECO President and CEO Mike Innocenzo, and Reverend Abbey Tennis of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. PECO, who has supported the Orchestra’s programs and events for over two decades is also in collaboration with the Orchstra for this event.

For more information on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute Concert, visit  and

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