Black Pearl conductor gets snapped up

Black Pearl conductor gets snapped up


norman lebrecht

September 15, 2021

The Philadelphia conductor Jeri Lynne Johnson, founder of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, has signed to boutique agency Arabella Arts. She appeared recently in a New York Times survey of women conductors.

Here’s the CV:

Jeri Lynne Johnson is a multifaceted conductor with eclectic musical tastes for projects onstage and off.

She made history as the first African American woman, not only to win an international conducting prize—the Taki Alsop Conducting Fellowship—but also to break barriers among major orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony, and Weimar Staatskapelle. One such project that underscores Johnson’s musical scope was her collaboration with rapper Jay Z, singer-songwriter Alicia Keys, and the hip hop band The Roots at Carnegie Hall. Her engagements in 2021-22 include the National Symphony Orchestra, Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Santa Fe Opera, Oregon Bach Festival, Chicago Opera Theater, and New Orleans Opera.

Determined to create an ensemble for the 21st century, she formed Philadelphia-based Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra made up of musicians from diverse cultures and ethnicities. Johnson’s mission is to take audiences beyond spectatorship to participation in musical experiences. Since launching the orchestra in 2008, she has pioneered a new approach to community engagement and programming that has been adopted by orchestras across the country.

A graduate of Wellesley College and the University of Chicago, she was awarded the Jorge Mester Conducting Scholarship to attend the Aspen Music Festival. Along the way, she worked with several mentors, among them Sir Simon Rattle, Marin Alsop, and Daniel Barenboim.

Putting to work her 20 years of experience and insights as an African American arts professional, she founded DEI Arts Consulting in 2016, which provides organizations with creative and strategic services grounded in the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. 



  • mary says:

    “A graduate of Wellesley College and the University of Chicago…”

    No conservatory? Where did she get her performance training?

    Don’t get me wrong, the University of Chicago has a top notch *academic* program in music theory and history, but has zero performance program worthy of mentioning.

    I mean, Bernstein and Alan Gilbert went to Harvard, but what really mattered was they went to Curtis, Juilliard…

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Rap, hip-hop, etc. Why abusing a classical orquestra with this thing?

    • Americaninparis says:

      You know nothing about music. Shut up.

      • Pianofortissimo says:

        If hip-hop, rap, and related cultural activities (and they are ‘cultural activities’) are music, then Amerivaninparis is right and I am completely ignorant, since I’m convinced that such things are not music as I know music, and that demanding a classical orchestra to play that is an assault even when the musicians themselves may state unrestricted submission, even praise the thing, in order not to be fired. But maybe Americaninparis’ venomous comment was not quite ‘unprovoked violence’. Maybe he or she feels genuinely offended, being a hip-hop fan who longs for ‘rap with strings’ with his or her idols? Or a gangsta rap professional demanding ‘respect’? Or an outraged twerking aficionado who wants to see the Paris Opera’s or the Bolshoy’s corps de ballet wiggling their asses? Or maybe Americaninparis is in some way deeply religious and demands to listen to the ’sacred music’ of Lil Nas X, wearing blood shoes and accompanied by the sacrifice of a classical orchestra? Never mind, the sky (or hell) is the limit now-a-days, and I’m sure that it’s a matter of time before my comical suggestions will seriously become real, yes they will indeed be called ‘necessary’ and will be supported by a lot of musicological theory.

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    Is the approach to attract new audiences to lower the artistic merit of the pieces she programs to make concerts “more accessible” or to educate audiences to enjoy art music?

    What I have seen of her work (z.B. does not impress me at all, but she is definitely good business for the agency: woman, black, young, looks good on photos, and is willing to make a career by compromising on the artistic part…

    • Americaninparis says:

      You’re judging someone based off a nearly decade old video.

      Just retire from that 2nd tier orchestra you claim to be a part of. No one wants you there and you’re not a good colleague or player at all.

      • May says:

        Well, it just begs the question, why isn’t there more video other than the OVER a decade old video of a poorly conducted video, for a conductor who has supposedly been conducting for 25 years?

        This is so typical of the HYPE in the strange world of conductors: here is an obviously not talented conductor, at the helm of a self-funded (or father-funded?) orchestra, who – on account of her non-whiteness and non-maleness – is suddenly interesting to the bottom feeder arts organisations.

        Were she a decent conductor, we would have already heard and seen more of her. I agree with FG: a pretty face (although she’d be more authentic if she didn’t straighten her hair) but sorely lacking as an artist. She should have become a music administrator if her organisational skills are so good, and left the conducting to, ahem, conductors.