Inspiring Voices – singer, Bruce Henry and composer, Florence Price
Back in 2003 I heard a podcast of Joe Carter and Krista Tippett (MPR “ON BEING”) talking about the ‘back stories’ for the Negro Spirituals. Normally I do other things while I listen but that day I sat down and listened to the entire show. What intrigued me was how VERY little I knew about those extremely familiar songs. I heard the re-broadcast of that podcast in 2010 after Joe had died and I promised myself I would find a way to get that music and the stories behind the music told to a broader audience.
Bruce’s energy is infectious, his range of 3-1/2 octaves amazing and his musicianship truly inventive and engaging. And he is an educator, sharing his thorough knowledge of the history of black music with young people in schools here and in Chicago.
The hidden historical meaning of the texts will fascinate and the wonderful orchestral arrangements created for these concerts by Paul Gericke will surely enhance Bruce’s inspiring renditions.
Florence Price was the first African American woman composer to have a work performed by an American Orchestra (the Chicago Symphony premiered Symphony #1 in 1933). In the spirit of nationalism of the 20s and 30s, Price’s primary goal was to incorporate Negro folk idioms – spirituals, blues and characteristic dance music – into the symphonic form. The symphony achieved wide acclaim, catapulting her onward to write hundreds of other works including 100 songs, many of which were made famous by Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson.
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to conduct Florence Price’s Symphony #1. With the resurgence of interest in her music, a recognized place among the finest American composers is hers.
At the age of 13, Mozart became concertmaster of the Salzburg court orchestra. Responsibilities for that position included conducting from the chair (Conductors, as they are today, were not a part of the orchestra) and performing as soloist. In 1775, between April and December, at age 19, Wolgang composed 4 violin concertos for that purpose.
We’ll be playing the 4th with Erin Keefe, new Concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra. Fiendishly difficult, it is the Mozart Concerto that violinists choose to show off.
The apparent ease with which Mozart created masterpieces was not a characteristic of Johannes Brahms but how could anyone follow in Beethoven’s titanic footsteps? When asked why he had not written a symphony, Brahms lamented, “You have no idea how it feels to hear behind you the tramp of a giant like Beethoven.” It took twenty years of trial and error before he completed his first symphony at age 43. Embracing and expanding upon Beethoven’s symphonic expertise, Brahms created a masterpiece which garnered him a spot in the 3 Big Bs – Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, each with a singular voice reflective of the changing world around them. Brahms symphony is a brilliant example of the extroverted emotionalism of the period of Romanticism.
Combining Mozart and Brahms in one concert will reveal a study in contrasts and musically illuminate the dramatic changes for humankind during the hundred-year-period from 1775 to 1875.
It has been a fabulous summer!
I have been to a few music festivals, conducted lots of repertoire, met fantastic musicians and learned a ton. But, I miss the WSO and really look forward to getting back on the podium in front of those great musicians who are also some of the greatest people on the planet.
Our first rehearsal is coming up on September 22, 2013. ALL DVORAK! Antonin and Tony – that’s our title for this concert. Tony Ross, principal cellist of MN Orchestra, will play Dvorak’s cello concerto – arguably the most famous of the genre. I can’t wait!
I’ve wanted to program The Noon Witch for a long time. The music tells the story of an unruly little boy whose mother scolds him and threatens that if he doesn’t cease and desist his annoying behavior, the noon witch will take him away. The boy’s behavior is portrayed by agitated and dissonant oboes, and 12 chimes signal the coming of the witch. I don’t want to reveal too much but even without the story the music is brilliant!
Dvorak’s 16 Slavonic Dances were the pieces that made him a household name. We will be doing #9 which opens with the sounds of a raucous party in the Bohemian countryside. The middle section, in the minor key, presents a reflective, mournful melody. Then we return to the fun of the folk music for which Dvorak was fiercely proud.
This is a concert you don’t want to miss.