Monday, February 1, 2016

February 2016 - Featured Playlist: Hold Fast to Dreams

February is widely celebrated as Black History Month, and while it’s vital that we respect and acknowledge people of all backgrounds consistently throughout the year, it’s also important that we take the time to especially acknowledge those who have not been given the same opportunities the majority of us take for granted, who have endured more than their share of struggle.

But in times of great adversity heroes arise, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks to the many thousands of peaceful protesters of all races who are left out of headlines today. Composers are there too who continue to preach a consistent message of hope through classical music, who encourage people of all backgrounds to Hold Fast to Dreams.

To hear the playlist, access NML as usual, go to the Playlists section, and select the Playlist of the Month folder under the Themed Playlists tab. If you are on your institution's premises, you may also be able to access it if you CLICK HERE.

1. David N. Baker – Alto Saxophone Concerto: I. --- – Indiana-born composer David Baker is equally at home in both the jazz and classical worlds, and this is immediately apparent in his Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra. Not only does this piece put center stage what is traditionally a jazz instrument, but it includes passages intended for improvisation, something which is the lifeblood of jazz but is rarely seen in classical.

2. Duke Ellington – Three Black Kings: No. 3 Martin Luther King – Duke Ellington was one of the greatest artists in jazz history, but he also composed for the orchestra. His ballet suite Three Black Kings was the final score he composed; left unfinished at his death, the piece was completed by his son Mercer.

3. Florence Beatrice Price – Symphony No. 1: III. --- – Price became the first African-American woman to be acknowledged as a symphonic composer, and to have music performed by a major orchestra. She was friends with writer Langston Hughes and singer Marian Anderson, and her music blended traditional European Romantic technique with the rhythms and other elements of African-American spirituals.

4. William Grant Still – Symphony No. 1, “Afro-American”: IV. Aspiration (Lento, con risoluzione) – William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1 was premiered in 1931 by the Rochester Symphony with composer Howard Hanson at the helm. Four years later it became the first work by an African-American composer to be performed by a major symphony orchestra when the New York Philharmonic programmed it.

5. William Levi Dawson – Negro Folk Symphony: III. O, le’ me shine, shine like a Morning Star! – Dawson was responsible for developing the Tuskegee Institute Choir into a world-famous ensemble, and his arrangements of traditional spirituals are well-known. He was also a capable orchestral composer; his Negro Folk Symphony was premiered by none other than Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

6. Hannibal Lokumbe – Dear Mrs. Parks: In Sacrifice – As a young man, Hannibal Lokumbe suffered a serious illness that nearly took his life. He traveled to Africa during that time in an effort to connect with his family’s past, and while there not only was he physically healed, but he felt himself spiritually healed “for all he suffered as a black man in America.” He since has focused much of his composition on honoring heroes of the civil rights movement.

7. Scott Joplin – Treemonisha: Act I: We’re goin’ around (A Ring Play) – Scott Joplin is remembered almost exclusively as the greatest composer of ragtime piano, but he aspired to much more. He composed two operas, but unfortunately only the second, Treemonisha, has been found, and that only in a vocal and piano version. It finally received its first complete performance in 1972, fifty-five years after his death.

8. Julius Williams – A Journey to Freedom, Honor, and Glory: Black Faces, White Faces – Berklee College of Music professor Julius Williams composed his cantata in honor of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an unarmed white Episcopal seminarian in 1965 Alabama who took a county deputy’s bullet intended for a 17-year-old civil rights activist named Ruby Sales. The killer claimed self-defense and was acquitted by an all-white jury.

9. Robert Nathaniel Dett – Motets and Partsongs: Let Us Cheer the Weary Traveler – R. Nathaniel Dett was born in Ontario in 1882 but spent most of his career in the United States. He was one of the most successful Black composers of his day, and one of the first during the early years of ASCAP. He is most remembered for incorporating spirituals and folk songs into his Romantic-style works for piano or choir.

10. Undine Smith Moore – Mother to Son – Pulitzer-nominated composer Undine Smith Moore is known to some as the “Dean of Black Women Composers”. When she was 20 she became the first graduate of Fisk University to receive a scholarship to Juilliard, then began a 45-year career on the faculty of Virginia State College (now Virginia State University). Known for her choral compositions, the work included here sets a poem by Langston Hughes.

11. Margaret Allison Bonds – Troubled Water – Margaret Bonds studied composition with Florence Price, William Dawson, and Roy Harris. She also attempted to receive lessons from Nadia Boulanger, who refused to teach her; she was so impressed by Bonds’ work that she stated that she needed no further study. Bonds is remembered for her settings of Langston Hughes poems and her solo piano compositions.

12. George Walker – Violin Concerto: I. quarter note = 56 – In 1945, a 23-year-old George Theophilus Walker became the first Black instrumentalist to appear with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Over fifty years later he achieved another important milestone when he became the first Black composer to win the Pulitzer Prize.

13. Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson – Sinfonietta No. 1: III. Rondo: Allegro furioso – Perkinson was born to compose; his mother, a musician herself, named him after the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. He also was an in-demand music director, taking that post for the Symphony of the New World (which he also co-founded), Jerome Robbins’ American Theater Lab, and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

14. Julius Eastman – Gay Guerilla: Part V – Julius Eastman was the kind of composer and artist who had a singular personal vision and didn’t let anyone’s opinion interfere. His tendency towards provocation can be seen in a 1975 performance of John Cage’s Songbooks that featured nudity and homoeroticism. The elderly composer was present for the show, and afterwards he left completely infuriated.

15. Clarence Cameron White – Basque Folk Song – Clarence Cameron White was a violinist and composer from Clarksville, Tennessee, whose arrangements of folk songs and spirituals have been performed by none other than Jascha Heifetz. His music has also recently been programmed by Middle Tennessee ensembles including the Nashville Symphony, indicating a revival of interest in this composer.

16. Anthony Braxton – 19 Solo Compositions: No. 14 Round ‘Bout Midnight – Saxophonist Anthony Braxton has never been comfortable being pigeon-holed as a jazz artist and composer, explaining, “Even though I have been saying I’m not a jazz musician for the last 25 years, in the final analysis, an African-American with a saxophone? Ah, he’s jazz!” He prefers to simply categorize his work as “creative music”.

17. James Scott – Ragtime Oriole – In 1905, James Scott went to St. Louis in search of Scott Joplin and asked him to listen to one of his ragtime tunes. Joplin was impressed and introduced him to his publisher, thus kickstarting a fruitful career. Like many performers and composers of his day, however, his fortunes declines upon the advent of sound in film, thus diminishing the need for his skills.

18. Ulysses Kay – 6 Dances for String Orchestra: VI. Galop – The nephew of classic jazz artist King Oliver, Ulysses Kay spent time under the tutelage of William Grant Still, Howard Hanson, and Paul Hindemith. He also enjoyed a distinguished teaching career at Lehman College of the City University of New York. He is remembered most for his operas and for his compositions for orchestra.

19. Michael Abels – Delights and Dances – Among his many achievements, contemporary composer Michael Abels began a mentoring program for disadvantaged young people that taught them music production and technology. He explained, “The traditional method is backwards: usually students are taught how to listen to music they wouldn’t otherwise like…Music appreciation should start by simply spinning the radio dial, and then relate that back to Mozart.”

20. Zenobia Powell Perry – Homage – When she was six years old, Zenobia Perry sang for Booker T. Washington, who (accurately) “declared she was a future Tuskegian”. After college she joined a teacher training program led by Eleanor Roosevelt, who became her friend and mentor. A single mother who endured the loss of a son, Perry was a powerhouse, active in the civil rights movement alongside her work in music and academia.

Each month, Naxos Music Library presents a themed playlist for our subscribers to enjoy. We know that a database of over 1.7 million tracks can be a bit daunting, so we'd like to highlight some of the amazing music that is available to you. Let it kickstart discovery!

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