Never before has an American symphony orchestra given the homeless equal billing with Charles Ives and Ludwig van Beethoven.
But this week, homelessness takes center stage in Benaroya Hall during a performance of Ives' "New England Holidays" (aka "Holidays" Symphony), as part of a Seattle Symphony initiative that aims to build connections with the community.
During a performance of "New England Holidays," an assemblage of four tone poems that celebrate what, to Ives, were the central American holidays of each season — Washington's birthday (winter), Decoration Day (spring), the Fourth of July (summer) and Thanksgiving and Forefathers' Day (autumn) — audiences will view intensely personal visual responses to the music that were created by clients of four nonprofits serving the homeless.
To give the artwork additional resonance, Claudia Castro Luna, Seattle's Civic Poet, will preface each movement of Ives' "American Four Seasons" with a poem written after observing and interacting with those who created the art. The evening will be capped by a rendition of Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto by the beloved American pianist Emanuel Ax.
The Ives project is a response to Seattle's State of Emergency Declaration on Homelessness, issued on Nov. 2, 2015. Part of the symphony's Simple Gifts Initiative, which supports people who are either homeless or in transitional housing, its roots lie in Seattle Symphony's "Community Connections" programs, which Simon Woods, symphony president and CEO, established shortly after arriving on the scene in May 2011.