Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra welcomes Janice Chandler-Eteme, premieres ‘JFK’

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Janice Chandler-Eteme, lyrical soprano, will join the ISO for a special performance of “JFK: The Last Speech” Oct. 27-28. (Photo provided/Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra)
Janice Chandler-Eteme, lyrical soprano, will join the ISO for a special performance of “JFK: The Last Speech” Oct. 27-28. (Photo provided/Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra)

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is presenting a weekend of artistry—blending music, poetry, Brahms and John F. Kennedy in a new performance.

The ISO will perform African American composer Dr. Adolphus Hailstork’s newest work “JFK: The Last Speech” with guest soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme at the Hilbert Circle Theatre Oct. 27-28. The performance will mark the third time the piece is being performed, having premiered in Colorado in July, and in Dallas in early October.

Hailstork said he created “JFK: The Last Speech” as a commission piece for the Dallas Symphony, and it is inspired by the last speech Kennedy gave before his death. The speech, which honored the late Robert Frost, was given at Amherst College in October 1963, just 27 days before his assassination in Dallas.

“The structure of the piece was laid out by the text I was given … the text of the poem and the text of the speech were all interwoven,” Hailstork said. “That’s also a pretty way of trying to get the flavors of autumn a little bit because it took place in the autumn and October, and I wanted to get that in there.”

The piece features words from Kennedy’s speech, lines from Frost’s poetry and orchestral music, blending the three elements together in what Hailstork, a lyrical composer, said he hopes audiences will see as a dramatic but beautiful tribute.

Janice Chandler-Eteme, an African American lyrical soprano and featured soloist for the performance, said this will be her third time performing “JFK: The Last Speech,” having performed during its premiere in Colorado and Dallas. Although the piece is designed for mid- to low-range, Chandler-Eteme said she enjoys the challenge of the music and has grown a deeper understanding of the music and the speech.

African American composer Adolphus Hailstork composed “JFK: The Last Speech,” which debuted in Colorado in July. The ISO will be the third orchestra to perform it since its creation. (Photo Provided/Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra)

Chandler-Eteme, who grew up singing in church and talent competitions in Washington D.C., said she briefly studied voice in Indiana at IU Bloomington. This performance marks her first time back to the Hoosier state since 1991. Although Chandler-Eteme has had a long and robust career as a professional singer, she said it is getting more difficult to travel and perform with orchestras like ISO because she has 240 middle school students waiting for her back in Baltimore.

“I’m teaching keyboard, and I’m directing three choirs — sixth, seventh- and eighth-grade choir — So, I’m leaving, and I don’t even like to leave these kids because they need the stability of seeing you every day,” Chandler-Eteme said. “When I did the Dallas job and I came back … I forgot to tell one of my sixth-grade classes. So, it was like, ‘Where were you?’”

However, Chandler-Eteme said she looks forward to returning to Indiana and sharing a stage with the ISO. She said she hopes audiences will listen intently to the text of the piece — both the lyrics and narration — as well as the recurring theme, as it is profound.

“I think it’s very profound, and the words are very powerful,” Chandler-Eteme said. “I think it’s apropos from where we are in our world history right now. We need these words to be spoken.”

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra will perform “JFK: The Last Speech” with guest soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme during “Brahms and The American Spirit” at Hilbert Circle Theatre, 45 Monument Circle, Oct. 27-28. The performance will conclude with Brahms’ First Symphony. Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased at indianapolissymphony.org.

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 or chloegm@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.