Ever wondered what it’s like to write a symphony? For several months, we’ve been following interdisciplinary artist PaviElle French as she wrote her first symphony, “A Requiem for Zula”, which honors her mother, Zula Young, as well as Saint Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, where she grew up.

The seven-movement piece was commissioned by the The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) and will premier on February 15th at The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts on the eighth anniversary of her mother’s passing. “My mother created home by giving me a life surrounded by love, education, music and community,” says French. The symphony honors the home her mother created for her, as well as the Rondo community that embraced her after her mother’s death in 2011. “I would not have been able to heal without this community,” she says. “I am their child, a child of Rondo.”

Well known as a singer, songwriter and performer, French had never composed a classical work before, but her mentorships with SPCO Artist-in-Residence Lembit Beecher and Brooklyn based arranger Michi Wiancko guided her through the experience.

The symphony will be part of the Tapestry 19 Festival, a new biennial event that uses the language of music to explore issues faced by our communities, and invites the members of those communities to lend their voices and viewpoints to the exploration. “This is something completely different and intentional. We wanted to work with new voices,” says the SPCO’s Artistic Director and Principal Violin Kyu-Young Kim of French’s commission. “We felt there was a real excitement and magnetism in what she had to say”.

French will perform her symphony with the SPCO on February 15, 16 and 17 (at the Ordway Concert Hall and Benson Great Hall in Arden Hills). Tickets and more information can be found here.

Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes footage of French’s writing process, rehearsal and world premiere performance coming soon to TPT Originals.


This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.