Electric Lady: Birthday Edition

French composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger once famously demanded: “Forget that I am a woman, and let’s talk about the music.” But as I was preparing my remarks for tonight, I kept asking myself, “Is this really possible?”

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The Fantastic Worlds of Edgar Allen Poe

All of the works on tonight’s program were composed within a twenty-year period, between 1903 and 1923, to be more precise. It’s a period in music history where we see perhaps the most fervent clash between the late Romantic style, which is firmly grounded in harmonic structures, and more deliberate explorations into allowing other elements of music, texture, rhythm, timbre to take center stage and guide musical forms.

All of the works on tonight’s program were also written by French composers, and thus they give us a snapshot of what was en vogue in Paris at the time, the influencers, tastemakers, trendsetters: Coco Chanel and Jean Cocteau, Claude Debussy and Edgar Degas. Paris was the place to be if you wanted to experience the bold, the daring, the cutting edge, the progressive.

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2014 Baccalaureate Service, Fountain Baptist Church

When Reverend Davis asked me to offer a word to the graduates, I admit, I was reluctant at first. Having recently graduated, I am often asked, “So what will you do now?” And honestly, I don’t know – in fact, I have no idea. The world in which we live seems more challenging than ever to navigate. While technology connects us at ever-increasing speeds, the economy remains in flux, affected by shifts in global politics, and disillusionment with our own national leaders. These days, it appears that there are more questions than answers, and the answers themselves often seem irrelevant and insufficient. Based on my own experiences, however, I can humbly offer three simple steps: look in, look up, and look forward.

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For Peter and Osian, and Music Fit for Queen Mother

In 1964, the Aspen Institute selected Britten as one of its first recipients for the Aspen Award.  At the inaugural ceremony, he discussed his compositional process:

"I certainly write music for human beings – directly and deliberately.  I consider their voices, the range, the power, the subtlety, and the color potentialities of them.  I consider the instruments they play – their most expressive and suitable individual sonorities … I also take note of the human circumstances of music, of its environment and conventions … almost every piece I have ever written has been composed with a certain occasion in mind, and usually for definite performers, and certainly always human ones."

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Affinities: Margaret Bonds and Langston Hughes

And he waited, with little money for food, and it would be a month before a ship departed with an all-black crew.  Sitting alone in the Italian city, Walt Whitman’s “I hear America singing” became Hughes’s “I, too, sing America.”  Watching ship after ship leave without him because of the color of his skin, Hughes not only longed to be home, but longed for a home that would embrace him, not in spite of his blackness, but because of it.

In 1959, Bonds completed Three Dream Portraits, and Ricordi published the cycle that same year.  In May of 1959, tenor Lawrence Watson gave the first performance of the work in its entirety. 

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