Chamber Music Review Print



Foothills Festival's Homage to Undine Smith Moore

August 20, 2004 - Winston-Salem, NC:


On August 20, the Foothills Chamber Music Festival joined with Winston-Salem Delta Fine Arts, Inc., to present a concert in St. Paul's Methodist Church celebrating the centennial of the birth of Undine Smith Moore (1904-89), considered by many to have been the dean of African American women composers. A granddaughter of slaves, Moore was born in Jarratt, Virginia, in 1904. Graduating from Fisk University in 1926, she received the first Fisk scholarship to study at the Juilliard School of Music. She earned her master's degree from Columbia University in 1931.

In 1927, after a year as Supervisor of Music in the Goldsboro public schools, she began a distinguished 45-year career as a member of the music faculty at Virginia State University, where she excelled as a teacher of music theory, piano, and organ, and as a performer, accompanist, and choral conductor. There, with Altona Trent Johns, she co-founded and co-directed the Black Music Center and its major project, "The Black Man in American Music." Moore also composed over a hundred works for chorus, solo voice, and instruments, and her 16-part cantata for chorus, soloists, and orchestra, Scenes from the Life of a Martyr (To the Memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.), was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1981.

WFU-based violinist Jacqui Carrasco joined a jazz trio - consisting of pianist Federico Pivetta, double-bassist Nathan Scott, and drummer John Wilson - for two well known standards, "In the Mellow Tone" by Duke Ellington and "String Noodles" by Thelonious Monk. Balances among the players were excellent, even though the piano lid was fully up. Each player was featured in turn as an improvising soloist, and all were excellent. I found the accompaniment of the violin's flights of fancy by whisks on drums especially attractive. Pivetta was a most imaginative improviser while maintaining an even flow and line.

Moore's daughter, Mary Moore Easter, was present, and she thanked the Delta Fine Arts for their long history of supporting performances of her mother's music. Much of her mother's passion for music was encapsulated in her anecdote about a typical visit of Moore to her daughter and her grandchildren in Minnesota. Arriving at the house, still in her coat, she would dash to the piano, hand everyone a sheet of paper, and say," Sing!"

Easter said that part of Moore's "Before I'd Be a Slave" (1953), for piano, reflected racial rage. While it begins with furious loud and crashing chords, the work contains many moments of quiet beauty, including an intriguing, repeated treble note. All these aspects were played with great expression and care for dynamics by pianist David Shimoni. The Chapel Hill native was the winner of the 2001 National Federation of Music Clubs Young Artist Auditions and the 2003 International Beethoven Sonata Competition. He attended high school at the NCSA before earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from Swarthmore College and Masters degrees in solo and collaborative performance from Juilliard.

Easter drew attention to a rhythmic figure derived from the pronunciation of the title "Soweto," a piano trio (1987); the figure dominates much of the first movement, Allegro giocoso, and appears, more subtly, in the ensuing Allegro assai, con brio, which has a lovely melodic middle section. This score received a committed performance from pianist Rachel Matthews, violinist Julie Savignon, and cellist Benjamin Wolff.

Among Moore's many students was Billy Taylor, whose composition for the Juilliard String Quartet, "Homage, A Suite for String Quartet and Jazz Trio," proved to be a welcome addition to the repertory and tied in nicely with the evening's overall theme. It consists of three movements marked Allegro, Andante, and Presto. In an interview conducted by Wolff, reprinted in the program notes, Taylor said that it pays "homage to some of the great musicians that I've worked with - Eddie South, Oscar Pettiford..., Joe Jones, the famous Count Basie drummer..., and Slam Stewart." The trio - pianist Pivetta, double-bassist Scott, and drummer Wilson - was joined by Carrasco and Savignon, violist Marie Winget and Wolff. The first movement featured long improvisations by Carrasco, Pivetta and Wolff. The slow movement gave Winget and Savignon their chance to shine in extended solos that were expressive and attractive sound tapestries. The fast last movement was a showstopper. Along the way, there were impressive improvisations by Scott and Wilson that were all one could desire. Assuming a quartet's ease with "winging it," this successful amalgam of jazz and classical idioms could be a welcome addition to the repertory, too.