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IRVINE, CA—The Philharmonic Society of Orange County and Soka Performing Arts Center present American Railroad with Grammy Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning Rhiannon Giddens and the Grammy Award-winning Silkroad Ensemble on Saturday, November 11, 2023, 8pm, at Soka Performing Arts Center. American Railroad is a multi-year initiative—Silkroad’s most ambitious project to date, conceived by Artistic Director Rhiannon Giddens. The project represents Giddens’s vision for Silkroad, having first raised the idea early in her tenure as Artistic Director. The tour program includes three new commissions by Cécile McLorin Salvant, Suzanne Kite, and Silkroad artist Wu Man, as well as re-envisioned arrangements by Giddens and fellow Silkroad artists Mazz Swift, Haruka Fujii and Maeve Gilchrist. This concert is part of the Eclectic Orange Series sponsored by the Jelinek Family Trust and is also part of California Festival: A Celebration of New Music.

“The American Railroad project has been years in the making, and the program we’ve created for our first tour is only the beginning. In it, we shed light on those who have been erased or overlooked throughout American history and merge with it Silkroad’s unique ability to amplify voices from a multitude of backgrounds and cultures. The result is a tapestry of stories, traditions, and music that have shaped our multifaceted cultural identity, and that must be heard and recognized. I hope audiences in the D.C. area and across California will leave these performances with a clearer sense of where we come from, how we got here, what it cost us— and that we collectively reflect on where we’re headed,” said Giddens.

At the heart of this undertaking lies the profound story of the Transcontinental Railroad’s completion. What once demanded months for a coast-to-coast journey was revolutionized into a mere week, transforming the landscape of transportation and connectivity across the continent. Profit-seeking corporations and the American government financed it, but the people who built it and who were most affected by it are the focus of this program—Indigenous and African Americans as well Irish, Chinese, Japanese, and other immigrant laborers whose contributions have been largely erased from history. Silkroad’s American Railroad seeks to right these past wrongs by highlighting untold stories and amplifying unheard voices from these communities, painting a more accurate picture of the global diasporic origin of the American Empire.

Giddens’s new arrangement, broken into vignettes interspersed throughout the program, is inspired by “Swannanoa Tunnel,” a work song from the African Americans forced to labor on the railroad in Giddens’s home state of North Carolina—a tune which has long been associated with bluegrass and folk artists, its origins forgotten. Two of the American Railroad tour commissions come from artists new to Silkroad. Grammy Award-winning vocalist and composer Cécile McLorin Salvant’s work is inspired by stories shared with and collected by Silkroad artists. Oglala Lakota artist, composer, and academic Suzanne Kite will create a graphic score using the Lakota written language based on dreams from members of the Silkroad Ensemble. Silkroad artist and pipa virtuoso Wu Man will also create a new work for the initiative, arranged by Chinese composer Haihui Zhang.

Silkroad artists Haruka Fujii and Maeve Gilchrist provide their own recontextualizations of railroad songs from immigrant communities. Fujii’s “Tamping Song” celebrates the Japanese immigrant contribution to the railroad, particularly after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, while Gilchrist’s “Far Down Far” shines light on the tensions between Catholic and Protestant communities within Irish railroad workers. Silkroad artist Mazz Swift takes on the African American spiritual “O Shout!” by emphasizing how this spiritual acknowledges the Ghanaian concept of “Sankofa,” a notion that roughly translates to the act of revisiting the past to reclaim something of importance. All three pieces were originally created for Silkroad’s recent Uplifted Voices—another program intended to germinate ideas for American Railroad—but are being reorchestrated for the larger November tour.

The first tour of Silkroad’s American Railroad takes place November 5-18, 2023, with most concert dates in California. In addition to the upcoming tour, American Railroad will include multidisciplinary components ranging from site-specific visual installations to an album, a documentary series, and curricular materials for use by educators and the public.

Soka Performing Arts Center is located at 1 University Drive, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656. Ticket prices start at $55 and are available at the Philharmonic Society box office at (949) 553-2422, online at, at the Soka box office at (949) 480-4278 and online at All artists, dates, venues, programs, and prices are subject to change. 


Founded in 1954 as Orange County’s first music organization, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County presents national and international performances of the highest quality and provides dynamic and innovative music education programs for individuals of all ages to enhance the lives of Orange County audiences through music. Since its inception, the Philharmonic Society has evolved and grown with the county’s changing landscape, presenting artists and orchestras who set the standard for artistic achievement from Itzhak Perlman, Gustavo Dudamel, Yo-Yo Ma, and Renée Fleming to the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and many others. In addition, the Philharmonic Society celebrates multi-disciplinary performances under its Eclectic Orange brand and embraces music from a wide range of countries with its World Music performances. Its celebrated family concerts introduce children to classical music with creative and inspiring performances, instilling music appreciation for future generations. The Philharmonic Society’s nationally recognized Youth Music Education Programs, offered free of charge, engage more than 100,000 students annually through curriculum-based music education programs that aim to inspire, expand imaginations, and encourage learning at all levels. These programs are made possible by the Committees of the Philharmonic Society comprised of 500 volunteer members who provide more than 90,000 hours of in-kind service each year. As a key youth program, the exceptional Orange County Youth Symphony and String Ensemble provide top-tier training to the area’s most talented young musicians through multilevel ensemble instruction, leadership training, touring opportunities, challenging professional repertoire, and performances in world-class venues. The Philharmonic Society also promotes life-long learning by connecting with colleges and universities to conduct masterclasses and workshops and providing pre-concert lectures to introduce audiences to program selections.


Soka Performing Arts Center is located on the beautiful hilltop campus of Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo. Our facility includes the 1,032-seat Concert Hall featuring world-class acoustics designed by master acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, designer of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and Suntory Hall in Tokyo, among many others. We also have an intimate 350-seat Black Box Theatre that allows for multiple seating configurations including club seating with bistro tables. More than 750 performances have taken place since the center’s dedication on May 27, 2011. The 2023-24 season marks our twelfth season presenting first-class programming in our world-class concert hall. We are continuing to expand our programming and outreach with the addition of a Children’s Concert Series, Blues Festival, and the only Great Pianists Series on the West Coast. From classical and jazz to world and contemporary music, the Soka Performing Arts Center has become a prized space for artists and audiences alike. We are proud to be the home of the Pacific Symphony Chamber Orchestra. Our Sundays @ Soka Series with Pacific Symphony continues to be one of our most popular series year after year. Our presentations with other Orange County arts organizations have enabled us to reach further into our community to offer arts education and programming. Our partnership with the Philharmonic Society of Orange County includes our PSOC Series, which brings superlative artists to our stage. We also partner with PSOC for our Outreach Program, bringing over 7,000 school children to Soka Performing Arts Center to experience live performances with outstanding musicians. With its world-class acoustics and first-class performances, Soka Performing Arts Center is quickly becoming one of the cultural jewels of Orange County.

To Engage, Educate, and Elevate the Human Spirit

Soka Performing Arts Center strives to elevate humanity through transcendent experiences. Come experience our exquisite acoustics. Come to expand your understanding and appreciation of music. Come to forge community and emotional connections through the shared experience of live music. Come to Listen. Feel. Transform.



Marie Songco-Torres 

(949) 553-2422, ext. 230


Jaime Spataro 

(949) 480-4014