Title: Wild Blue Yonder Artist: Eleanor Alberga, Ensemble Arcadiana Label: Navona Formats: CD, Digital Release date: April 23, 2021
In unsettling times, Eleanor Alberga’s new release of contemporary
chamber music feels like an aesthetic introduction to the new normal of
discomfort, anxiety, and fleeting moments of absolute beauty. Although the
pieces on the album were composed and recorded over a twenty year period by the
Jamaican-born British composer and pianist, they are held together by a common
theme of dreams and exploring the unknown. These dreams are not necessarily
comforting, but rather an exciting journey through dream logic, full of slow
fades, abrupt changes, and constant transformations of small motives and
traditional harmonies that leave you feeling as if you are discovering a new
territory, but with vaguely familiar landmarks.
Title: dwb (driving while black) Artist: Susan Kander, Roberta Gumbel Label: Albany Formats: CD, Digital Release date: March 15, 2021
dwb (driving while black) is a chamber opera with a
few modern twists. Composer Susan
Kander and librettist/soprano Roberta Gumbel
join to tell the story of a loving Black mother who anxiously watches her son
grow. She battles with his increasing desire for independence and her fear for
his safety. Each scene features the vocalist and accompanying instruments, sung
from the perspective of the mother. Progressively, we see her interact with her
son in the car at different stages in his maturity. Interjecting the scenes are
bulletins performed by a singer, cellist, and percussionist that represent the
“dangerous world beyond the Mother’s control.”
Title: Alien Stories Artist: String Noise Label: Infrequent Seams (Dist. Bandcamp) Formats: CD, Cassette, Digital Release date: April 2, 2021
The New York-based classical
avant-punk duo String Noise, featuring violinists Conrad
Harris and Pauline Kim Harris, is celebrated for their wide-ranging
performances of contemporary music. Since the duo’s founding in 2011, they have
added more than 50 new works to their repertoire. Their latest release, Alien
Stories, was influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement, which also increased
attention on issues of racial equality with the musical realm. In support of
Black artists, the duo decided to co-commission, with Carnegie Hill Concerts,
new works from five young Black composer-performers based in New York City.
These five works are featured on Alien Stories.
Great performances and recordings of their
work can go a long way in helping solidify the reputation of any composer. The
GRAMMY Award-winning Catalyst
Quartet is working to use their immense
talent to highlight chamber music by composers who may have been overlooked
because of their race or gender with a new series of recordings, titled Uncovered. Volume One, featuring early
works by Afro-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, promises an exceptional
project, bringing the incredible playing of a top-tier string quartet to finely
The acclaimed Grammy®-nominated woodwind quintet Imani Winds have released their latest
studio album, Bruits. Composed of the talented artists Brandon Patrick
George (flute), Toyin Spellman-Diaz (oboe), Mark Dover (clarinet), Jeff Scott (French
horn), and Monica Ellis (bassoon), Imani Winds delivers a provocative
commentary on the issues that have, and continue to, plague our country. Elucidated
by the metaphorical title, “Bruits,” a medical term for an abnormal sound generated
by blood flow through an obstructed artery, this album utilizes three inspiring
works to describe our ongoing social and political climate, reflecting on the
turmoil and strife within our country in an effort to bring about beneficial
change before the damage becomes irreparable. Additional featured performers on
the album include Grammy® award-winning pianist Cory Smythe, Metropolitan Opera
National Council & Operalia award-winning soprano Janai Brugger, and
scholar and narrator John Whittington Franklin.
World-renowned soprano Janinah Burnett, known for her performances on Broadway as well as the Metropolitan Opera, is releasing her debut studio album, Love the Color of Your Butterfly. Classical operatic themes combine with a multitude of styles, such as jazz, blues, and spirituals, coming together to showcase both Burnett’s incredible versatility as well as the influences that shaped her into the talented and expressive musician she is today: “When the time came for me to make a body of work that represented my deepest artistic desires, I took an inventory of my musical influences and creations and came up with a concept that blended my past with my present.”
London’s “young, gifted and classical” Kanneh-Mason family have joined together
with friends for a retelling of Camille Saint-Saëns classic children’s suite, Carnival of the Animals, paired with
Michael Morpurgo’s Grandpa Christmas.
Performers include the four oldest family members who currently study at the
Royal Academy of Music—pianist Isata,
cellist Sheku, and
violinists Braimah and Konya—with their younger siblings including 18-year-old pianist
Jeneba, 15-year-old violinist Aminata, and 11-year-old cellist Mariatu.
Recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, this album marks the first
release to feature all seven of the famous siblings performing together.
The Heart of a Woman is the first full-length biography on Florence B. Price, the renowned African American composer. Based on Dr. Rae Linda Brown’s 1987 Ph.D. dissertation on Price, the author sadly did not live to see her expanded book published before succumbing to cancer in 2017.
Dolce, featuring cellist Kristen Yeon-Ji Yun
and pianist Phoenix Park-Kim, has assembled a satisfying collection of pieces
by composers of African descent on their recent release, Summerland.
This album is a follow up to Deep River:
Music for Violin and Piano by Composers of African Descent, released by
Park-Kim and violinist Merwin Siu in 2016. Most of the pieces chosen for Summerland
reflect the lyrical side of classical music, with winding, twisting harmonies
and long, sustained melodies.
Whether intentional or not, Naxos
picked an opportune time to release this recording featuring works by two very
prominent 20th century African American composers—William Levi
Dawson (1899-1990) and his somewhat younger contemporary, Ulysses Simpson Kay
(1917-1995). As a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, at least a portion
of white America is finally addressing gaps in their knowledge of Black history,
having come of age at a time when the historical narrative and education system
was (and is) unquestionably white-washed. At the same time, many university
music departments and libraries have begun the process of re-examining the Western
classical music canon in an attempt to decolonize syllabi and collections. This
new release on Naxos American Classics series is certainly a very
welcome addition to those efforts. Though most of these works have been released
commercially in the past, the most recent of these recordings was issued nearly
20 years ago.
Title: EarthSeed Artist: Nicole Mitchell & Lisa E. Harris Label: FPE Format: CD, LP, Digital Release Date: June 26, 2020
They say that great minds think alike, and that seems
to be the case with the new collaborative album between renowned composers Nicole Mitchell
and Lisa E. Harris.
The pair met at the New Quorum Composers’ Residency in New Orleans and were
drawn together by a shared interest in celebrated author Octavia E. Butler, one
of the best known African American writers in science fiction. Together, the
two musicians took inspiration from Butler’s legacy of Afrofuturistic novels to
Title: Some of These Days Artist: Lara Downes & Friends Label: Flipside Music Formats: CD, Digital Release date: April 3, 2020
If there were ever an album that captured in music the interconnected nature of the fight for justice across generations, it is pianist and activist Lara Downes’ Some of These Days. Blurring genres, varying instrumentation, and collaborating with other musicians, Downes brings us an album that, track after track, delivers deeply moving and heartfelt performances of spirituals and freedom songs. First conceived in antebellum times as multilayered expressions of sorrow, longing, and joy—psychological coping mechanisms to deal with the trauma of slavery—these songs took on still new meanings when sung one hundred years later by Civil Rights activists, including her Harlem-born African American father and Jewish mother. And evident through Downes, these songs are still speaking to us today.