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The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra Celebrates 10 Years

As Only Musician-Owned Symphony in North America

LPO presents world premiere of music drama,

"My Name Is Citizen Soldier," by Frank Proto and John Chenault

starring actor Paul Winfield

NEW ORLEANS — The only musician-owned and operated symphony in the United States, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) in New Orleans, celebrates a decade of sacrifice, struggle and black ink this fall as it opens its 10th anniversary season Thursday, Sept. 14.

To mark the occasion, it will present the world premiere of the music drama, "My Name Is Citizen Soldier," which was commissioned for the orchestra. Written by the renowned American composer Frank Proto and poet-playwright John Chenault, the work recognizes the new National D-Day Museum in New Orleans and invokes the spirit of the citizen-soldiers who fought and died on the beaches of Normandy in 1944. This creative team received 14 Pulitzer Prize nominations for Ghost In Machine, a work commissioned for the 100th anniversary of the Cincinnati Symphony.

"The LPO is thriving," says Sharon Litwin, LPO executive director, "because of the musicians’ commitment to fiscal responsibility, often at their own expense, and to innovation. Even while we count our pennies, we’ve been able to attract new audiences, bring nationally known musicians and conductors to Louisiana and premiere a work as important as "My Name Is Citizen Soldier."

In September 1991, classical musicians in New Orleans faced their own figurative D-Day: Should they surrender quietly as their employer, the New Orleans Symphony, made plans to cease operations, or storm the beaches to establish a unique, daring foothold in the American orchestral hierarchy?

The decision might not have been life or death for the individual musicians, but it was for orchestral music in New Orleans, where some of North America’s first opera performances were staged more than 200 years ago. The 60 citizen-musicians decided to organize the only full-scale professional orchestra in North America wholly owned and operated by players, and the LPO was born. The LPO, now with 70 musicians, remains the only orchestra of its kind in North America, according to the Symphony Orchestra Institute, a not-for-profit privately financed consulting and advocacy organization based in Evanston, Ill.

When it opens its season with "My Name Is Citizen Soldier," the LPO will present a multi-media work that places D-Day in a 60-year context and challenges the audience to consider seriously its legacy.

"It’s not meant to rattle sabers or be in a John Wayne movie, but to provoke thought," says Proto, a composer who has straddled the worlds of jazz and symphonic music.

The 40-minute work is narrated by Paul Winfield, who plays the part of a World War II veteran in a retirement home recalling his experiences to schoolchildren. Several series of actual radio broadcast clips will transport the audience from the present day to the 1930s and brewing clouds of war and back again to 2000. It finishes not with a heroic statement but a probing question asking listeners to contemplate the legacy of D-Day and their own role in shaping the future.

"My Name Is Citizen Soldier," sponsored in part by a grant from the American Composers Forum, is influenced by the book, "Citizen Soldier," by World War II historian Stephen Ambrose who is the founder of the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans.

The LPO now performs a full 36-week concert season, including more than 125 concerts to more than 200,000 listeners and 45,000 schoolchildren. It performs in public parks, plantations along the Mississippi River, schools and suburban venues along with its regular subscription season at the historic Orpheum Theater in downtown New Orleans. Recognizing and building upon the unique cultural melting pot that has built New Orleans from the early 18th century, the LPO also has performed with Latin and Afro-American musicians often considered outside the mainstream of orchestral music.

A key factor that contrasts the LPO with its predecessor is a strict adherence to fiscal responsibility. Unlike the New Orleans Symphony, which folded amid a severe financial crisis blamed on a regional economic slump, the LPO has operated in the black since its inception. The musicians have had to suppress their own salaries and forgo annual bonuses.

Performances of "My Name Is Citizen Soldier" are scheduled Thursday, Sept. 14, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 16, at 8 p.m. at the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans. Tickets to these and any other LPO performances may be purchased by phone at (504) 523-6530 or in person at the LPO’s downtown office at 305 Baronne St., Suite 600, New Orleans, LA, 70112. Credit-card orders may be faxed to (504) 595-8468. Ticket prices range from $11 to $52. For more information on the LPO and ticket information, visit its Web site.