Urban Counterpoint: The Piano Music of Ed Bland is the second release of the music of the late Chicago composer Ed Bland by Cambria Master Recordings. Bland’s instrumental compositions were the focus of an earlier album, Urban Classical: The Music of Ed Bland (1994). However, the focus of Urban Counterpoint is on Bland’s piano works. Performed and interpreted by pianist Judith Olson, the album explores his genre-blending compositions which incorporate “a broad range of textures and diverse rhythms” from the early 20th-century Western European music canon as well as jazz, gospel, and West African rhythms.
Paul Moravec’s 2017
oratorio, Sanctuary Road, is a
modern take on the classical oratorio form, portraying stories from the
Underground Railroad rather than Biblical content. The libretto by Mark
Campbell interprets slave narratives collected and published in 1872 in The Underground Railroadby William Still (1821–1902) of Philadelphia, a “conductor” who aided many
fugitive slaves including his older brother. Some of the song texts are
literal, as when Still interviews an escapee he has sheltered, but at other
times more poetic, consisting of single words or phrases joined together to
portray the collective experience of the enslaved who escaped to
freedom. The oratorio’s title, however, was inspired
by the modern concept of “Sanctuary City,” bringing contemporary resonance to
the composition. The sixteen movement work for five soloists, chorus and
orchestra was commissioned by Jody Spellun, a member
of the Oratorio Society
of New York, and this live recording captures the
world premiere performance at Carnegie Hall by the OSNY Chorus and Orchestra
under the baton of Kent Tritle.
The songs and spoken excerpts that comprise Bound for the Promised Land: Songs and Words of Equality and Freedom were performed live during the Atlanta Music Festival in 2016 at Ebenezer Baptist Church and Glenn Memorial Auditorium at Emory University. The Atlanta Music Festival was first created in 1910 after the Atlanta Race Riots and revived in 2001 by Pastor Dwight Andrews. The purpose of the festival at its inception was to introduce the world to renowned African American concert musicians. The music featured on Bound for the Promised Land does not disappoint and holds true to the original mission of the festival, with works by Dorothy Rudd Moore, T. J. Anderson, Duke Ellington, John Carter and Adolphus Hailstork. Guest artists include the late soprano Jessye Norman, who performs on four songs, tenor Timothy B. Miller, and narrators Taylor Branch and Rev. Robert M. Franklin, Jr.
Title: Spark Catchers Artist: Chineke! Orchestra & Chorus Label: NMC Formats: CD, Digital Release date: January 17, 2020
Royal Academy of Music professor and double
bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku
has a laudable mission: championing change and celebrating diversity in
classical music. Through her Chineke!
Foundation, Nwanoku nurtures new
generations of talent by commissioning works and supporting music education
programs including a youth orchestra. Her flagship group, the Chineke! Orchestra, was founded in 2015 and is comprised of Black and Minority Ethnic
(BME) classical musicians working in the UK and Europe. The orchestra recently
won the inaugural Royal Philharmonic Society
for filling the stage with BME artists, drawing a far more diverse audience to
concert halls, and “restoring BME composers past and present to their rightful
place amongst those we regularly revere.” These achievements are showcased on
the Chineke! Orchestra’s latest album, Spark Catchers. Featuring works by six of the UK’s
leading BME composers, the performances (except where otherwise noted) are led
by African American conductor Anthony Parnther, music director of the
Southeast Symphony in Los Angeles and the San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra.
Title: Elgar Artist: Sheku Kanneh-Mason, London Symphony Orchestra Label: Decca Classics Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: January 10, 2020
London-born cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason rose to prominence in the UK after winning the BBC Young Musician Award in 2016 and received international attention for his performance at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018. A member of the remarkably talented Kanneh-Mason family, 20-year-old Sheku has often performed with his six brothers and sisters, all classically trained musicians between the ages of 10-23. His debut album,Inspiration, was released in 2016 on the prestigious Decca Classics label (his sister, pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, is also signed to Decca). On his sophomore album, Elgar, Sheku performs Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85 with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, plus several short chamber pieces by Elgar and other composers. As a testament to the number of people inspired by the young musician, Elgar is already a best seller, making Kanneh-Mason the first classical musician to break into the Top 10 of the UK album charts in over 30 years, a position currently shared with grime star Stormzy.
American soprano Katherine Jolly has graced many opera stages over the course of her budding career. After winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finale in 2006, she went on to perform with the New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and Florida Grand Opera, among others. In concert repertoire, Jolly has taken the route of many lyric sopranos, specializing in the repertoire of Bach, Handel and Mozart. On her debut recording Preach Sister Preach, however, she selected three contemporary works by young American composers. The project was undertaken while Jolly was on the voice faculty at the IU Jacobs School of Music (JSOM), and was recorded on the stage of Auer Hall in 2018 and early 2019 by audio engineer D. James Tagg, who is also on the JSOM faculty.Continue reading →
Title: The String Queens
Artist: The String Queens
Release date: November 25, 2019
Renowned for their genre spanning repertoire, the Washington, D.C. based trio The String Queens have been changing the ways audiences engage with classical music. The three women—Kendall Isadore (violin), Dawn Johnson (viola), and Élise Cuffy (cello)—are “school teachers by day and concert performers by night” who have a strong commitment to artistic integrity and music education. Though they might not yet be a household name, you have likely heard TSQ backing artists such as Solange, Janelle Monae, and Jennifer Hudson, as well as Aloe Blacc on his recent video of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” filmed on the grounds of Monticello. The trio has also been featured on concert stages around the world, including Carnegie Hall, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Royal Festival Hall, and Shanghai Grand Theatre.Continue reading →
The Ballad of the Brown King & Selected Songs, featuring music of composer Margaret Bonds, is a much needed album that will play an important role in bringing Bonds the wider recognition she deserves. A number of renowned artists, stretching from the present day back to Bonds’ lifetime, have recorded Bonds’ shorter compositions including her art songs and spiritual settings, as well as her sole published piece for solo piano, “Troubled Water.” But this performance by The Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra—with soprano Laquita Mitchell, mezzo-soprano Lucia Bradford, tenor Noah Stewart, and conductor Malcolm J. Merriweather—iis the world-premiere recording of not only The Ballad of the Brown King, but of any large-scale composition by Bonds, as most remain unpublished, much less professionally recorded.
Coinciding with the 2019-20 season’s acclaimed opening production of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and the exhibition Black Voices at the Met, the Metropolitan Opera offers a third blockbuster with Black Voices Rise: African American Artists at the Met. This compilation of performances by Black artists from 1955 to 1985 celebrates the talent and “overdue arrival” of these history-making singers. The album opens with a performance by Marian Anderson, who broke the Met’s color barrier with her debut in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera in 1955. Other featured performers include celebrated stars Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry, Kathleen Battle, George Shirley, and Jessye Norman, among others. Black Voices Rise also includes rare excerpts from the Met’s 1985 company-premiere of Porgy and Bess starring Simon Estes and Roberta Alexander. The extensive liner notes by Dr. Maurice Wheeler include a brief history of African American performers at the Metropolitan Opera and the struggle for racial equality, as well as biographies of the singers included in the compilation. All recordings were restored and remastered from the original analog tapes, allowing these voices to triumph yet again.Continue reading →
When Gabriel Prokofiev called Branford Marsalis to see if he had any thoughts on the new saxophone concerto he was about to compose, Branford had one request: “make it melodic.” So Prokofiev took it upon himself to write, as he says, “a classical concerto,” but one that combines his love of jazz with classical elements in a harmonious and syncretic way.Continue reading →
Artist: Devonté Hynes & Third Coast Percussion
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 11, 2019
Devonté Hynes, perhaps better known as R&B artist Blood Orange, has covered a lot of musical ground in his career. He recently released his fifth album, Angel’s Pulse, under his Blood Orange persona, and he previously produced indie rock music under the name Lightspeed Champion. Many of Dev’s fans might be unaware, however, of his love of classical music and his 2018 debut at the Kennedy Center as one of four pianists performing Philip Glass’s 20 Etudes. Now, with the release of Fields, featuring Hynes collaboration with the Chicago-based ensemble Third Coast Percussion, he makes his recording debut as a composer in the classical music world.Continue reading →
Decca Classics has released a remarkable collaboration between Grammy-winning jazz composer Wynton Marsalis and violin virtuoso Nicola Benedetti. Marsalis’s Violin Concerto in D and his Fiddle Dance Suite for solo violin were recently recorded by Benedetti, the former performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Cristian Mǎcelaru. These two works represent new heights in Marsalis’s compositional style as he deftly mixes classical music with other idioms.Continue reading →
Jamaican-born British composer Eleanor Alberga has received more attention in the past few years since her piece, Arise, Athena!, opened the final concert of the BBC Proms in 2015. This recording of her string quartets highlights some earlier compositions, in which her modernist sensibilities are at the fore. Alberga utilizes many compositional tools in her vast toolbox to bring drama to three very different works, all composed within an eight-year period from 1993-2001. Working in a combination of modernist and postmodern idioms, Alberga has not forgotten harmonic tension and release and plenty of repetition; this is not to say that her music is conservative, but that it is refreshingly expressive and has an engaging sense of narrative and rhythmic drive, honed from her training as a composer for modern dance. Continue reading →
Title: Black Swans
Release date: August 23, 2019
As many readers are no doubt aware, Black Swan was the first major record label in the country to be owned and run by African Americans for the exclusive promotion of Black artists. Founded in 1921 during the Harlem Renaissance by publisher Harry Pace, the company also involved other luminaries: a young Fletcher Henderson served as recording director and de facto accompanist, William Grant Still was hired as composer/arranger, and W.E.B. DuBois was an early investor. At a time when white-owned labels were developing “race” series and limiting Black artists to recording blues, jazz, and gospel music, Black Swan expanded its catalog to include classical singers and instrumentalists, documenting the performance practices of a phenomenal group of concert artists. Now, almost 100 years later, Black Swan classical 78s are very rare and most have neverbeen reissued! This groundbreaking new compilation, Black Swans, includes the first recordings of black classical artists from the label’s short-lived 7100 operatic series, in addition to other rarities.Continue reading →