Millikan Symphony

Millikan Symphony

For, about, and of Robert Millikan
Ann Millikan
Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Gil Rose
Jennifer Curtis
Catalog Number: 
new classical
in memoriam

Chapel Hill, NC

Release Date: 
Aug 25, 2017
Liner Notes: 
1 CD
One Sheet: 

When Ann and Bob were typical California kids filling notebooks with musical sketches (including ideas for their magnum opus: Millikan’s Symphony), little did they realize how that would eventually turn out. Ann never stopped composing and her brother Bob became a major epidemiologist, vet, violinist, and rowing enthusiast. When he died at the age of 55 it was time to bring all those threads together in one musical homage.

Ann Millikan’s Millikan Symphony — recorded here by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, directed by Gil Rose with Jennifer Curtis as violin soloist — is more than a loving tribute to her sibling; it is a research project in its own right, worthy of its brilliant dedicatee. Each movement focuses on one aspect of Dr. Robert Millikan’s life: science, animals, rowing, and violin. As a scientist, “Dr. Millikan and his colleagues conducted three waves of this country’s groundbreaking longitudinal study of breast cancer in African-American and Caucasian women,” said Shelley Earp, MD, director of UNC Lineberger. “Through the Carolina Breast Cancer Study (CBCS), he sought to understand the complex reasons for poor breast cancer outcomes in African-American women. His seminal findings, published in 100 papers, have changed the face of breast cancer disparities research.” 

The opening movement of Ann’s symphony, Science, models the molecular genetic battle going on in a breast cancer tumor. The second pastoral movement, Animals, pays tribute to his years in veterinary medicine and his life as an avid outdoorsman. Rowing, the third movement, brings the rhythms and splashes of a boat race (specifically the Millikan Cup race founded in his honor since he had been faculty advisor to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Crew) to life in orchestral terms. The extensive finale, Violin, amounts to an elegiac violin concerto in its own right and is a fitting conclusion to a life cut all too short.The symphony may be heard without detailed knowledge of the stories behind the sounds but is all the richer when the listener appreciates the community effort behind the collaboration, Ann’s passionate work with microscopes and stopwatches to dig deeper, and the impressive human all-rounder that gave rise to such an outpouring.

St. Paul-based Ann Millikan’s music has been described as “tonally challenging yet emotionally involving” (Joseph Woodard, LA Times), “packed with propellant polyrhythmic textures” (New Sounds, WNYC), and “characterized by high energy and a quirky inventiveness that defies easy categorization...Her scoring is clean and transparent and her felicities of orchestration are among the most attractive elements in her work.” (Stephen Eddins, All Music). Ann Millikan composes concert music for orchestra, chamber ensembles and choir, opera, and experimental and interdisciplinary projects involving installation, theatre and dance. Rhythmic vitality is a powerful force in her music, stemming from previous years playing jazz, African and Brazilian music.

Known for her collaborative projects that connect deeply with community – story, history, and culture are often an impetus behind her work. 



"The fruits of her research are audible: Millikan Symphony is simultaneously deeply felt and deeply considered. The work is truly a symphonic understanding, not just of Dr. Millikan’s research and personal interests, but of the multiple ways of knowing— and remembering— a beloved person’s life." [FULL ARTICLE] - Danika Paskvan


"it is an easy work to appreciate for its well-crafted and ever interesting motion through the life of a much-loved individual." [FULL ARTICLE]- Dominy Clements


"Composer of chamber and orchestral music of recognized finesse, versatility and expressive depth, American Ann Millikan recently composed and recorded her Millikan Symphony, masterly performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra conducted by Gil Rose, to honor the memory of her late brother Robert Millikan, a medical exponent but also a multifaceted personality, that the individual movements of the symphony are called to portray. The tenacious struggle against the disease fought by Bob, both as a researcher who, unfortunately, as a victim of the same, is translated musically into a first movement characterized by a deliberately discontinuous language, in which sharp, fragmentary themes are chased by an incessant rhythmic pulsation, underlined by the prevalence of percussion instruments. The opposite movement is the second movement, pervaded by a pastoral climate that is well suited to describe Robert's love for nature, evoked in all its richness and charm through soft flute, horn, and string dialogues. Another nice change of record leads us to the third movement, whose rhythmic organization seems to mark the times of a sports race - probably a racing race, specialty in which Bob excels - with a lot of final sprint. In the fourth and final movement, one goes back to the rhapsodic trend of the first, through a series of pyrotechnic variations on the main theme, written - think a little - from Ann and Robert (who was also a violinist) when, children, they planned to make a four-handed job. The dream that, though passing through the painful loss of the beloved brother, Ann Millikan has in turn transformed personal and special events into a universal artistic content that comes to a message of hope when a swirling balleted dance fades this wonderful and important symphony. [FULL ARTICLE] - Filippo Focosi


"an eloquent eulogy for an adventurous and wide-ranging, multifaceted personality." 

"The music is expressive, using the full range of the orchestra and a variety of tonal textures. Science, the first movement, portrays the genetic battle that goes on within a cancer tumor. It doesn't sound like inspiration for music, but the results are compelling and dramatic." [FULL ARTICLE] - Anya Wassenberg

Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

"You would do well to venture upon this music and its very satisfying performance by BMOP. It is subtle in the beginning of your interaction, then the it becomes more and more clearly, identifiably special. I do recommend you spend some serious time with this. Ann Millikan is a living treasure!" [FULL ARTICLE] - Grego Edwards


"All in all a great listening experience which will send this listener on a quest for more of this composer’s work." [FULL ARTICLE] - Allan J. Cronin