3 New Albums Retell the History of Black Composers

3 New Albums Retell the History of Black Composers

Music cannot survive on its own. Composers in Canon do not need support: from publishers, from foundations, from artists. Without these champions, it’s all too easy to slide into obscurity.

Three projects – by Catalyst Quartet; Baritone Will Leverman; And pianist Lara Downs – consider another opportunity to maintain a legacy: recording. Gone are the days when classical albums could be trusted as moneylenders. But in the streaming age, they are endlessly accessible, easy to broadcast, and, in the case of these new releases, ideal for spreading the word about unseen musicians of color, whose music often exists in disparate states of clutter .

The recording has helped propel the recent revival Julius eastman And Cost of florence, Whose works are held by scholars and critics today, but have been neglected for many reasons including race – over decades.

When a friend of mine, the musician Jacques Dupos, programmed Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “Andemianus Dream” a few years ago for the Bombay ensemble. CalliopeThe only complete score he could find was a rare holograph in the Library of Congress. So he traveled to Washington and spent dozens of hours making a performance version of it. a Video of the resulting concert There is only available recording of the piece.

“I’m not sure that would be sustainable as a regular practice without strong institutional support,” he said, “which speaks for some obstacles in bringing equity and diversity to music programming.”

Similar labor went into the making of these albums, created by black composers with the goal of exposing music and offering new possibilities for the classical canon.

The matchless project of the Catalyst quartet began in 2018, progressing from the initial idea of ​​performance and recording a program of work by some of the most eminent musicians. It quickly blossomed into something more ambitious: a series of focused surveys, beginning with music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Born in 1875 in Britain to a white mother and a black father’s house, Coleridge-Taylor wrote on “Uncovered, Vol.” 1 ”when he was a student at the Royal College of Music in London. Although they reflect the influence of Brahm and Dvorak, as violinist and scholar Matthew Leslie Santana sees in the album’s liner notes, he has a “new musical project”, said the quartet’s cellist Carlos Rodriguez.

“Except that it’s not new, and now it’s redefining the canon,” Rodriguez said. He pointed to the clarinet quintet in F-Sharp Miner: “You think of Brahms and Mozart Shehnai Panchak, but this is up. It is its own. “

“Ughada, Vol. 1, ”released earlier this month On the Azica label, the catalist – violinist Karla Donehew Perez and Jessie Montgomery, violinist Paul Laria and Rodriguez – in three early Coleridge-Taylor works, including quintet with pianist Stewart Goodyear. Anthony McGill, The principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic. (Montgomery, Increase in demand as a musician, Left the quartet last month and was succeeded by Abi Fayette.)

Preparations for the Collarridge-Taylor album – and future installments of Unleashed, which continues with the Florence Price recording – do not come as easily as Beethoven’s quartet recording. Scores were not always readily available, and did not have an established interpretation history.

“These pieces are not in your blood,” Donuse Perez said.

Some music was never recorded, or only a single record, and, as Laria stated, “none of these should be present in a single recording.” Members of the quartet are hoping that “open, vol. 1 “indicates more Coleridge-Taylor performances.

“I think this is an interesting way for presenters to go in an interesting direction, but it doesn’t have a setback,” Fayette said. “You can hear the classical era and the romantic era; It’s not like you’re throwing the audience at the deep end. And I think this year has proved to us that classical music is ready for a change. “

Will Leverman’s “Dreams of a New Day”, a program of American art songs by Black Composers Friday on Cedel Records, Works for two years. But, Liverman said, “good times are coming.” Due to the epidemic delays, he found himself recording with pianist Paul Sánchez last summer, performing extensive Black Lives Matter Renewed urge for racial equity In classical music.

At the end of the album – its roster includes surviving composers and older people such as Margaret Bond and Harry Berlegh, known for their influence on Dvorak and the spread of spirituality with classical idioms – Sean Okebolo’s “Two Black Church” The premiere is recording. “It is an influenced setting of poems. A Birmingham, Ala., Church bombing In 1963 and A. 2015 shooting At Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC

Liverman, who is scheduled to sing this fall Metropolitan Opera’s season-opening production Terrence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” – the company’s first opera by a black composer – said he is doing these works in recall, but this recording is a way to “normalize” them.

“When I was starting out as a student, I kept seeing people like Dietrich Fisher-Diskau That’s why He did a lot of recording, ”he said. “There’s something very important about the music that’s out there and accessible.”

“But it needs to happen,” he recalled. “Then I just did it.”

Led to the creation of a similar spirit Rising sun music, A digital label that debuted this month with the EP “Remember Me to Harlem” and will continue to record work by Black Composers. “If you’re free,” Downs said, “you can move very fast.”

Downs is working to develop a community of scholars and composers to help with the project, which seeks to highlight the work of musicians of color operating for more than 200 years. Two of those collaborators appear on “Remember Me to Harlem”: Obist Titus Underwood in William Grant Still’s “Song for the Lonely”; And Devon Teens, the bass-baritone, was gentle in Margaret Bonds’ “When Dove Enter”.

As part of the initiative, Dowse also intends to release new ones in some cases, the first version of the score – making them more accessible to artists and students. The volatile state of these works, she said, reflects the history of American music and the country more broadly.

“Every story you uncover has a question, ‘Why was it covered?” Douse said. “You are talking about black life and imbalance. Part of it is bigger than music. We can see our art and culture as microscopic. “



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