The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: For Black History Month, conductor Marin Alsop rediscovers jazz master James P. Johnson as a serious classical musician and composer of symphonies. Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Rhapsodie String Quartet plays a FREE concert of Mozart and Brahms in Stoughton on Tuesday evening. | February 11, 2013

ALERT: The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Rhapsodie String Quartet (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) will play music by Mozart and Brahms in a FREE concert tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m. at the Skaalen Retirement Community Chapel , at 400 North Morris Street, in Stoughton. Free-will donations will be welcome at the door. The quartet brings together some of the brightest stars of the MSO: Co-concertmaster Suzanne Beia, Principal Cellist Karl Lavine, Principal Violist Christopher Dozoryst and violinist Laura Burns. The concert will include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s  String Quartet No. 15 in D minor, K. 421, and Johannes Brahms‘ Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 155, featuring MSO clarinetist Nancy Mackenzie. The Rhapsodie String Quartet is the resident quartet of the MSO’s HeartStrings Community Engagement Program which reaches beyond traditional learning environments to bring live, interactive performances by some of the MSO’s best players into healthcare and residential facilities.

Rhapsodie Quartet MSO Greg Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

February is Black History Month.

That makes it a great time to once again ask a question that I posted last month on Martin Luther King Day: Where are African-American classical musicians, and why don’t we see and hear more of them?

Apparently, I’m not the only person with that question on my mind. In fact, if you follow this link back to that posting, you can read reader Comments and see some very fine suggestions for more names of black composers and performers.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/classical-music-on-martin-luther-king-jr-day-and-president-barack-obamas-second-inauguration-day-the-ear-wonders-why-arent-there-more-african-american-players-in-and-audiences-fo/

But there is more.

National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” with Scott Simon also featured a terrific story about Marin Alsop (below), the conductor and music director of the Baltimore Symphony and the Sao Paul Symphony in Brazil.

Marin Alsop big

It turns out that Alsop uncovered long-lost manuscripts of serious music by the forgotten James P. Johnson (below, in a photo by William Gottlieb), best known as an outstanding jazz stride pianist who also taught Fats Waller.

And as a jazz composer, he wrote THE piece that embodied an entire age: “The Charleston.”

But it runs our that there was a classical side to Johnson too. He wrote “Harlem” Symphony (an excerpt in a YouTube video is at the bottom) and several other works that were actually performed in Carnegie Hall during the 1940s.

alsop_johnson

Moreover, Alsop – a Leonard Bernstein student in spirit as well as name — is trying to bring Johnson back into the mainstream.

Alsop is attempting to restore the lost manuscripts that languished in an attic for decades. And she intends to give performances of the music that will become, one suspects, recordings. The story even includes some excerpts, so stream it and listen to it, don’t just read it.

And more live performances and recordings of a black composer just might also lead to more black students and black audiences.

At least one can hope so.

Here is a link to the story:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/02/02/170864270/treasures-in-the-attic-finding-a-jazz-masters-lost-orchestral-music


4 Comments »

  1. Yamekraw, has been recorded numerous times by various orchestras. Put “James P. Johnson” into the Amazon search box, and select MUSIC rather than CD, and about 200 items will appear. About one disc on each page is symphonic music of JPJ. Kudos to Ms. Alsop & Co. for their work.
    MBB
    p.s. it will take more than performances of black composers to bring black people to the symphony, since hardly any white people, on a percentage basis, go to hear orchestral music…it will take a MASSIVE cultural shift, which, given our economic future, I would not anticipate…Brahms and Beethoven, Stravinsky and Debussy, these are not the musicians of America, and both black and white Americans know this, and usually prefer the popular music of their own country over Art music of anybody else,living or dead.

    Comment by Michael BB — February 11, 2013 @ 9:07 am

  2. I heard that Marin Alsop interview. She’s a woman of energy, with many interests. I’m looking forward to hearing some of those long-lost works by James P.Johnson, after hearing some snippets on the interview.

    Comment by Ann Boyer — February 11, 2013 @ 8:57 am


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