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The Duke Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Harry Davidson, opened their 2019-20 season with a program titled "Cultural Confluence: The Old World Meets the New."
The concert took place in Baldwin Auditorium and marked the opening of Davidson's 21st season as music director and conductor of the Duke Symphony. Each of the pieces chosen for this program has a connection with African-American influences of one kind or another.
The concert opener was "Dance Nègre" from African Suite by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912). He was an English composer and conductor of mixed race; his mother was an English woman and his father was a Creole physician. Coleridge-Taylor achieved considerable success on three tours of the United States in the early 1900s. "Dance Nègre" is the closing movement of the four movement African Suite. It begins with two big attention-getting chords and then launches into a spritely jig that is then passed through several iterations in varying instrumental sections and combination. A middle section is slower and quieter, it is a lyrical tune of considerable beauty. The original theme returns and builds to a grand climax. The DSO performed quite professionally, giving a lively and well-balanced performance.
Guest artist Karen Walwyn is a concert pianist, composer, and associate professor of music at Howard University. She has recorded Florence Price's Piano Concerto in One Movement and is featured in the Grammy-nominated film, The Caged Bird: The Life and music of Florence Price, which has been aired nationwide on PBS.
The recently discovered cache of music by Florence Price has led to wide variety of performances of her works, from piano solo to chamber works to symphonic works. The Piano Concerto in One Movement was composed in 1934 and premiered in that same year with Price as the soloist. The complete score was lost and has been reconstructed and orchestrated by composer Trevor Weston.
Even though it is technically in one movement, there are three distinct sections, played without a pause. The first, marked moderato, opens with various instruments passing snippets of the theme up and down the sonic range, after which the piano launches into an ambitious solo cadenza played with awesome technical and artistic skill by Walwyn. The rest of the opening section is developed with an urgent and lyrical drive. The second begins with piano chords and a solo flute twittering above. This develops with tender phrases and light scoring and was most attractively projected and achieved by both piano soloist and woodwind soloists of the orchestra. A bridge of gorgeous piano arpeggios over hovering strings leads to the third section, a sprightly example of a juba, an African folk-dance that was popular in pre-civil war days. It was charming and a winsome conclusion to the piano concerto.
After an intermission, we settled in to hear the one of the most popular and loved piece of Classical music in the entire repertoire; Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 93 (1893). It is also known as "From the New World" – its official nickname – or simply as the "New World Symphony." (Incidentally, it was the first Classical music recording I bought – a five disk set of 12-inch 78 RPM shellac records. That was a long time ago.)
The concert program informed us that the orchestra includes 33 violins, divided between firsts and seconds, 20 cellos (celli, if you prefer), and all the other instruments of a full-sized symphony orchestra. With all that, you expect big things! And, by golly, we did hear big things – and with the skill and musical knowledge of the man with the stick, the small, tender and sensitive passages were as awesome as the big heroic sounds. The crescendos and decrescendos were nicely balanced. Lillian Clark's English horn solo in the second movement Largo was heart-rending. All those violins and cellos sounding together produced a lush sonic experience. The woodwinds, with their delightful tones were a joy to hear in the dancing tunes spread throughout the symphony. The mellow lower brass in the second movement were marvelous. The soaring horns, trumpets and trombones were heroic and powerful. Of course, the array of percussion, underscoring the rhythms and the powerful cadences, was superb. Did I leave anyone out? All those who provided solo contributions to the magic of the music were great. And I believe the audience went home happy.
Editor's Note: In an earlier review of Price's Piano Concerto, we noted that G. Schirmer announced its acquisition of worldwide rights to Price’s catalog in Nov, 2018, but it has come to our attention that this is not quite accurate, as other publishers hold rights to some of Price's scores. For example, William Grant Still Music holds the rights to that composer's arrangements of certain music by Price. And Classical Vocal Reprints in Fayetteville, AR, has advised us of a large swath of material, itemized below, writing: "Dr. Barbara Garvey Jackson, founder of ClarNan Editions..., has been publishing the music of Florence Price for over 25 year and has been the leading expert of Florence Price along with Dr. Rae Linda Brown and Calvert Johnson among others.
"This is the music that is currently available from ClarNan Editions a Division of Classical Vocal Reprints.
Music of Florence B. Price:
Organ Music Ed. by Calvert Johnson, biographical notes by Rae Linda Brown: Suite No. 1 for Organ (CNl9)
Short Organ Pieces (CN24)
Variations on a Folk Song (Peter, Go Ring Dem Bells) (CN26)
Sonata for Organ (CN29)
44 Art Songs and Spirituals, ed. by Richard Heard (CN87)
Choral Music Communion Service in F (Presbyterian), SATB and Organ, ed. by Barbara Jackson (CN96)
Praise the Lord, SATB and Piano or Organ, ed. by Stephen Caldwell (CN97 original key and CN97 low key)
Teaching Pieces for Piano, Vols. 1 & 2, Beginning Pieces, ed. by Lia Jensen-Abbott (CN93 & CN98)
Three Suites for Piano, ed. by Barbara Jackson (CN100)
An Album of Piano Pieces, ed. by Barbara Jackson (CN101)
A Second Album of Piano Pieces, ed. by Barbara Jackson (CN105)
Three Negro Spirituals for Two Pianos, ed. by Barbara Jackson (CN103)
Quintet in A Minor for Strings and Piano, ed. by Lia Jensen-Abbott (CN102)
Score and 4 Partbooks String Quartet (1929), ed. by Er-Gene Kahng (CN104)
Three Negro Spirituals for Violin & Piano, ed. by B. Jackson (CN108)
ClarNan Editions General Editor: Barbara Garvey Jackson
A Division of Classical Vocal Reprints
2701 South Van Hoose Drive Fayetteville, AR 72701 1(800)298-7474 or 1(479)442-2595
http://www.classicalvocalrep.com & http://www.classicalvocalreprints.com