Tuesday, June 30, 2015

George Walker, Hale Smith & Adolphus Hailstork – Black Composers Series. First Recordings Vol. 9

   In seventies position of Afro-American artists in USA was a subject of change, after decades of indisputable domination in popular music and jazz, after serious contribution in artistic life after the war, the time for adequate status has come. It was part of general and wide process of social and cultural emancipation of minorities in various spheres. Among many symposiums and festivals, one project has special place as fixative and documenting the moment. The series of Black Composers created by Columbia Masterworks in cooperation with The Afro-American Music Opportunities Association was serious and audible voice in mid-seventies and it is still historical monument. This institutional form of supporting artists created at least nine volumes of music composed and performed by artists of African-American ancestry. This series is an interesting choice of most influential composers in the history of American culture had clear impact on the picture of American culture, promoting composers and performers, giving some representation of the role African-Americans were playing in the history of New World’s musical culture.
   The ninth volume of the series comprises works of three contemporary composers. In its best part the music language of this works is modern but not avant-garde, its symphonic sound is set in mainstream of contemporary compositions, although there are some ideas to show individuality of musical language and social experience. The program of the album shows three composers in three symphonic works. Most appreciated of these composers is George Walker was born 1922 in Washington. He was studying with Robert Cassadesus, Rudolf Serkin, Nadia Boulanger, Gian Carlo Menotti and Gregor Piatigorsky. From 1945 he was developing his career as concert pianist, but earlier started creative activity, debuted as composer in 1941 with Lyric for Strings. In 1956 he became first black Doctor of Music Arts Degree in Eastman School of Music and his later academic career as a university professor in Smith College, The University of Colorado, Rutgers University and many other institutions where he was visiting professor or giving master classes. The list of George Walker’s works is imposing, the more than 90 compositions for orchestra and various instruments including vocal and choral music is covering almost all forms and consequently creating composer’s individual style.

Black Composer Series vol. 9 (1978)

   The Piano Concerto in three parts by George Walker was composed under the patronage of National Endowment for the Arts in 1975 for virtuoso Natalie Hinderas who was also the first performer of this work. Natalie Hinderas was also composer and professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. The Piano Concerto is written in three parts modern version of classic form, with based on two themes first part with exposition and short recapitulation with second theme reference in piano cadenza. Second part is a personal tribute to the memory of Duke Ellington. Final movement in form of rondo is energetic and intellectual culmination of the work. This virtuoso and expressive movement include some references to melodic material of first movement’s main theme. All movements are titled by time signatures with quarter-note equals 72, 63 and 120. The work is full of energy, which source is in dissonant sound material and in articulation contrasts between piano and orchestra, which is clearly the source of power in middle part. This is not the first presentation of his music in Columbia Black Composers Series. In 1974 George Walker’s Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra was presented on 3rd volume of the series. In 1996 he received Pulitzer for Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra – composition to poem by Walt Whitman When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, the famous elegy to Abraham Lincoln. This was the first Pulitzer Prize to Afro-American composer.
   Next side shows works of two composers Hale Smith (1925-2009) and Adolphus Hailstork (b. 1941). The Celebration by Adolphus Hailstork is short festive composition for American Bicentennial premiered in May 1975. It is tonal and full of dance energy with altering 7/8 meter – 2-2-3 to 2-3-2. As composer had expressed, this was music he aimed for those days, “music for men’s spirits and not merely for their ears or intellects”. Closing composition of this album is Hale Smith’s Ritual and Incantations, work mixing inspirations and experiences of jazz and serial music. These American and European references are crossed with West African drumming practices, but as Dominique-René de Lerma wrote in sleeve notes, no particular cult practice has been assigned to the work. This powerful work was premiered by Huston Symphony Orchestra but for this album it was recorded by Detroit Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Freeman. For quality of these performances as well as for lots of creative music, especially Walker’s Piano Concerto, for the idea of the Volume 9. this album is worth four stars.

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