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
4 Comments

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


Classical music: On Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President Barack Obama’s second Inauguration Day, The Ear wonders: Why aren’t there more African-American players in and audiences for classical music? Check out this website devoted to black classical musicians.

January 21, 2013
21 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It happens every year around this time.

Only this year it is a two-fer, so the feelings or thoughts are more intense.

That’s because today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, complete with live radio and delayed TV broadcasts of ceremonies from the Wisconsin State Capitol (at noon on Wisconsin Public Radio and at 8 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television)  and other places. (Below is the poster for Martin Luther King Jr. ceremonies with host Jonathan Overby.)

MLK Day at Capitol

But this year it is also President Barack Obama’s second Inauguration Day – well, at least the ceremonial one since the official one took place by law yesterday on Sunday. (In 2008, cellist Yo-Yo Ma (below bottom) played with violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Gabriela Montero at the first Inauguration.)

obama

YoYoMaObama INaugurationGetty Images

Anyway, on this day I always think back to all the many concerts I go to in a year — professional, amateur and student concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). And I always find myself asking:

Why don’t I see more African-American audiences at the concerts. And especially, Why don’t I see more African-American players in the various symphonic and chamber groups or as soloists? 

Sure, I see a lot of whites and a lot of Asians. I see some Hispanics, though also far too few. But I am especially struck at how few African Americans I see – although opera seems to outpace symphonies and chamber groups in this regard. (Sorry to say, I can’t think of any black conductors, violinists or cellists and only one pianist — at bottom, you will find a YouTube video of the African-American pianist Awadagin Pratt performing J.S. Bach at a concert in 2009 at the Obama White House — even though the sports world has at least some black managers, coaches and quarterbacks.)

I don’t see many African-Americans in the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below), whose music director and conductor John DeMain is world-famous for his Grammy-winning black production of Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess”:

MSO-HALL

Or in the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below):

WCO lobby

Or in the University of Wisconsin Symphony or Chamber Orchestra and UW Choral Union (below):

UW Choral Union  12:2011

Or even in the middle school and high school groups sponsored by WYSO (below).

Thomas Buchhauser  conducting WYSO Philharmonia Cheng-Wei Wu

It is similar to the thoughts I have every New Year’s Day when I tune in the “Live From Vienna” concert with the Vienna Philharmonic and am once again disappointed to see how few women are in that august ensemble – even in the year 2013.

Vienna Philharmonic

That’s not to say that we won’t today see and hear a lot of blacks in music. But I suspect we will hear jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, spirituals and pop.

And sure, some people may say: Well, after all, those are the traditional genres of music-making in the African-American culture and community.

And they are right in large part, and those are excellent forms of music.

But there is also a large number of blacks who have contributed to classical music. And more blacks – to say nothing of all whites and members of other ethnic groups – could stand to learn more about the contributions of African-Americans to classical music.

Does the cause of such ignorance have to do with racism and bias?

With faulty music education?

With family or community  values?

With a lack of role models?

With the lack of aggressive recruiting and hiring by local groups?

Now it just so happens that there are websites that offer visitors comprehensive histories and biographies of blacks in classical music – and even offers a quiz to see how much you know about who they were and the contributions they made.

So on this day when all of the U.S. and, one hopes, the world celebrate the achievements of African-Americans, maybe people can take time to visit this site, educate themselves and get a renewed and greater appreciation for the role that African-Americans have played in classical music.

Here are is a link to one of those websites:

http://Africlassical.com

Do you have observations to offer in the COMMENTS section about causes of remedies of such a shortage?

Names of composers and performers to pass along?

Is it something we have to accept as a cultural given?

Are there other websites you can suggest where readers can learn about African Americans and classical music?

 


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