Check our 2022-2023 Season,
“The Dream Season”
Four amazing concerts at Hutchinsons Fox Theatre! This season is filled with incredible music and unforgettable guest artists! Click on Concert below for Tickets or click here for the best deal, Season Tickets!
Season tickets are available now at the Fox Theatre, click here
Individual tickets will go on sale, August 15th, 2022
Program Notes for our February 9th Concert
Nkeiru Okoye began her formal musical training at Oberlin Conservatory of Music and took her graduate degrees at Rutgers University. Brought up on Long Island as the daughter of an American mother and a Nigerian father, she is known for her compositions that reflect, not only subjects from the American Black experience, but also her African heritage, as well. She has taught in Nigeria and Ghana, and is interested in combining elements of non-Western and popular music styles with that of the Western “classical” tradition. Recent works have been inspired by iconic Black women in American history, Harriet Tubman and Phillis Wheatley. But, not to be pigeon-holed, she also is adept at composing in a wide variety of musical styles, and moreover, is a noted “soft sculpture” artist, widely recognized for her multi-cultural dolls.
Voices Shouting Out is a response to the tragedy popularly known as 911, but unlike many artistic responses, it is not a solemn, and grieving exploration of that terrible event which changed forever American definitions of freedom and security. The composer relates that initially her intent was, indeed, to compose in grief, but she simply could not find the voice to do so. Rather, what ensued was a voice of affirmation, a reflection of a determination to move ahead in confidence and unity as a people. This is an artist’s statement of the necessity of national optimism in the midst of profound challenges. In her words, “It was a march to acknowledge those fighting on behalf of our safety, and yet a sparkling celebration of life for those who continue living.” Voices Shouting Out was begun on New Year’s Eve, 2001 and given its première in February 2202 by The Virginia Symphony.
Ahmed Alabaca’s Ascension for Solo Clarinet and String Orchestra is an eloquent elegy written in memory of Rex Aniciete, a Southern California clarinetist and friend of the composer. Purposefully crafted to capture Aniciete’s spirit, the eight-minute setting advances from a tender opening into dynamic outpourings of emotion, the breadth of his personality conveyed by Karel Dohnal’s heartfelt clarinet performance and the grandeur of the string orchestra’s accompaniment. While the piece was initially inspired by Alabaca’s relationship with Anciete, the larger symbolism of the work captures the striving of the human spirit. Its elegiac character and style are reminiscient of the opening movement of Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto.”
A Lincoln Portrait
When commissioned by conductor André Kostelanetz during World War II to compose a portrait of an eminent American, to express the “magnificent spirit of our country,” Aaron Copland selected Abraham Lincoln as his subject. Although the choice may seem to us virtually inevitable, the fact is his first selection had been Walt Whitman. It was when Kostelanetz persuaded him that a political figure of world stature would be better suited to the patriotic purpose that Copland settled upon Lincoln.
The following note was written by Copland for the first Boston Symphony performance in 1943:
“The first sketches were made in February, and the portrait finished on 16 April 1942. I worked with musical materials of my own with the exception of two songs of the period: the famous ‘Camptown Races’ which, when used by Lincoln supporters during his Presidential campaign of 1860, was sung to the words, ‘We’re bound to work all night, bound to work all day. I’ll bet my money on the Lincoln hoss…,’ and a ballad that was first published in 1840 under the title ‘The Pesky Sarpent,’ but it is better known today as ‘Springfield Mountain.’ In neither case is the treatment a literal one. The tunes are used freely in the manner of my use of cowboy songs in Billy the Kid.
“The composition is roughly divided into three main sections. In the opening section I wanted to suggest something of the mysterious sense of fatality that surrounds Lincoln’s personality. Also, near the end of that section, something of his gentleness and simplicity of spirit. The quick middle section briefly sketches in the background of the times he lived. This merges into the concluding section where my sole purpose was to draw a simple but impressive frame about the words of Lincoln himself.”
Still was a pioneer for African-Americans in “classical” music composition; he was the first American Black man in practically everything having to do with conducting and composing for symphony orchestras and opera companies. The scion of a distinguished family, he was a descendent of the famous 19th-century abolitionist, William Still. While more fortunate members of the family bought their freedom or escaped north, his immediate family was left behind in slavery in the southernmost isolated county in Mississippi (south of Natchez). He was born in Woodville, Mississippi in 1895 to a remarkable woman, who took him out of that agrarian obscurity to Little Rock, Arkansas, where she went on to teach high school for many decades. She and his stepfather gave him great encouragement and created an artistic home environment in what were obviously difficult times for folks with their aspirations. With encouragement and apparently great ambition, he learned the violin, cello, and oboe, and at an early age attended Wilberforce University in Ohio with the goal of becoming a composer-especially for the symphony and opera. Soon thereafter he enrolled in Oberlin College, and after military service in WWI, he accepted a position with W.C. Handy (composer of The Saint Louis Blues) in New York City.
His career there blossomed-while not achieving fame as a composer right away, he nevertheless worked at the highest levels of New York musical circles as an arranger. Radio and musical theatre became his métier, and a veritable Who’s Who of musical luminaries became his associates: Paul Whiteman, Artie Shaw, Sophie Tucker, Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake-the list is impressive and long. Along the way he studied musical composition, most notably with the important early twentieth-century composer, Edgar Varèse. Soon a flood of works ensued, and his music ultimately was performed by groups such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the BBC Orchestra, to just name a few. He left New York in the mid-1930s for Los Angeles, where he spent the rest of his life, and began another successful career arranging and composing for the film and television industry, but focusing on “serious” composition. From then on, a torrent of works ensued: operas, ballets, symphonic poems, orchestral suites, choral music, songs, and five symphonies.
His first symphony, subtitled “Afro-American,” was composed in 1930 and was the first symphony composed by a Black man and performed by a major American orchestra (in this case, the Rochester
Philharmonic). Notwithstanding his study with Varèse, and the deep influence of the famously avant- garde composer upon on him, the symphony is a rather conservative work, cast in a tonal, accessible idiom. He indicated that his intent was to reflect untutored musical characteristics of Black “sons of the soil,” hence the blues and spiritual (but not jazz) elements that thoroughly inform the work. Each of the four movements is associated with excerpts from poems by the important Black poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar, cast in dialect. These inform the moods of each of the movements, and respectively are entitled, “Twell de Night Is Pas,” “W’en I Gits Home,” “An Ante-Bellum Sermon,” and “Ode to Ethiopia.”
The first movement contains strong allusions to the well-known twelve-bar blues structure, while the second is infused with intimations of Black spirituals, reflecting the metaphor of “going home” for death as an escape from the realities of difficult times. The third movement is animated (as most third movements are in a symphony), and in this case admirably reflects a sermon about “An’ we’ll shout ouag halleluyahs, On dat mighty reck’nin’ day.” Finally, the last movement is a noble and dignified evocation of the text: “Be proud, my Race, in mind and soul . . .”