Mark Gresham | 02 MAR 2021
As part of its Music of the African Diaspora Festival (Feb 25 – 28) in then closing days of Black History Month celebrations, the Atlanta Music Project presented “Studio Sessions” — a compiled video concert of virtual performance by members of its faculty — on its AMP TV channel via Facebook Live. The program was a combination of none works dawn from African-American spirituals, Black classical, and popular genres.
The program opened with mezzo-soprano Pamela Dillard “Come Down Angels,” a spiritual arranged by Undine Smith Moore (1904 – 1989_ accompanied by Trey Clegg on piano. This song is an arrangement by Undine Smith Moore of a traditional Spiritual. Moore, who was widely regarded as the “Dean of Black Women Composers,” wrote this vibrant arrangement in 1978, and is a well-known piece of vocal recital repertoire.
Violist Meghan Yost performed the opening movement (“Introduzione”) of a composition by African American composer Dont’e Davis, Partita Ursprünglich für Bratsche Geschrieben in c moll Op. 59 (Partita oOriginally written for viola kn C minor). Davis is also a violinist, and , like Yost, teaches at AMP. Before her performance, Yost held an online with Davis )although the question was never raise as to why he gave the overall work a German name, or titled the first movement in Italian, for that matter). the conspicuously tonal work is mostly somber, at times mournful, and seems to fit well in the performer’s hand.
Another string player, violinist Grace Kim, made her video clip in Pensacola Florida, filmed in from the the city’s Graffiti Bridge. Kim lives in Pensacola, but is doing virtual teaching for AMP from there. She chose to perform a solo violin transcription of “Redemption Song, Bob Marley (the final track on Bob Marley and the Wailers’ 1980 album, Uprising) accompanied by only very occasional automobile traffic emerging from under the bridge behind her — surprisingly lending more authenticity to the video and audio than interference.
The program then turned to the 17th century and the music of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745 – 1799), composer, virtuoso violinist and conductor as well as a champion fencer. Born in what was then the French colony of Guadeloupe (a group of Caribbean islands in the northern Lesser Antilles), he was the son of a wealthy married planter and his wife’s African slave. When he was young, his father took him to France to be educated He became a military officer, a colonel, in the first all-black regiment in Europe, fighting in the French Revolution on the side of the Republic, but today is best known as the first known classical composer of African ancestry.
Flutist Matthieu Clave and pianist Sean Vogt performed Bologne Sonata No. 1 in B Flat Major Op.1a, a convincingly astute composition in the classical style of the era. This was he first of the concert’s several “split screen” performances with performers synchronizing from different locations (mist likely via Zoom) to create the video, with Vogt playing the grand piano at the AMP headquarters. A similar setup was used between Vogt and French horn player Joshua Williams in an instrumental version of William Grant Still’s brief song, “If You Should Go.”
The screen split further in the next two segments, with each performer multi-tracking themselves.
Double bassist Jonathan Colbert performed an attractive arrangement of the spiritual “Deep Rover” for four double basses, playing all four parts himself, multi-tracked.
Not to be outdone, trumpeter John Bryant took a similar approach to another well-known African-American spiritual, “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” as arranged by Moses Hogan for chorus, and transcribed it for seven trumpets, playing all seven parts himself in multi-tracked composite video. Bryant was impressed by how Hogan utilized vocal articulation and stacking of rhythms, and brought that over into his own re-arrangement for trumpet choir, with impressive effect.
The penultimate number of the concert was yet another African-American spiritual, “Walk with Me,” as arranged for voice and cello by Marian Harrison, a native of Atlanta, who in August 2007 became the first African American to receive the Doctorate of Music degree in Music Composition from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.
Soprano Hanan Davis and cellist Ismail Akbar beautifully performed this remarkably expressive and and emotionally intense arrangement. (Their video was constructed inn the same manner as the two earlier duos.)
Recording artist Keeyen Martin delivered the final number, “A Song for You” by Donny Hathaway, accompanying hos soulfully liquid high voice himself on electronic piano.
The program gave the Atlanta public a good look at AMP faculty, both in music performance and spoken commentary, as well as a full program of music from at least a couple of corners the Black musical experience. There is only so much one can do in the span of an hour, and much of what was presented was somewhat familiar fare. but be assured that that there is far more out there to be tapped and exposed, even under just the banner of “classical” music.
Although Black History Month is set a side as a special time for presentation of music from the Black Diaspora, it’s worth proactive;y recognizing that there are 12 months of the year in which it can be programmed, even if it means digging a little more deeply and deliberately for the real gems of the repertoire. AMP is certainly solidly on this path. More to be heard, more to be done. ■