Monday, February 16, 2009

Marin Alsop & Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Revive James P. Johnson's 'Drums'

[Victory Stride: The Symphonic Music of James P. Johnson; The Concordia Orchestra; Marin Alsop, Conductor; Music Masters 67140 (1994)]

Sunday, February 15, 2009
On Valentine's Day, my sweetheart took me to see the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He has a subscription to the BSO for the 'Symphony with a Twist' series. We saw them around Halloween use children's toys and paper bags as instruments. Once they performed the soundtrack for the Charlie Chaplain movie, 'City Lights.' The BSO's conductor, Maestra Marin Alsop, is the first woman to conduct a major American orchestra. She's wonderful, as you'll see in the above clips. Yesterday's performance included some music that she had been tracking down for years. Alsop was intrigued by the pianist and composer James P. Johnson who wrote 'The Charleston' and was renown for his 'stride' piano techniques that made him one of Harlem's most famous pianists. She found some of his surviving relatives and one of them had some of his music stashed in the attic. Alsop brought the music to us all last night. Can you imagine? It was a powerful piece entitled 'Drums.'”

Drums – A Symphonic Poem appears on the CD Victory Stride: The Symphonic Music of James P. Johnson, which is pictured above. Scott E. Brown describes the work in the liner notes: “Johnson orchestrated it and also recorded it as a piano solo. The symphonic scene opens with a timpani solo that sets the rhythmic underpinning before multiple variations on two themes which far extend his recorded solo. He affirms his 'roots' melodically as well as rhythmically in what became a symphonic poem with a new set of lyrics by Langston Hughes. Called 'Those Jungle Drums,' Hughes' poem was written to fit the rhythms of Johnson's music.” “Hitherto unknown, 'Drums' is another linchpin in the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance.” [James Price Johnson (1894-1955) is profiled at]

1 comment:

AM Kingsfield said...

The BSO did play "Vistory Stride" with Savion Glover accompanying on tap. The maestra said they were considering making this their signature piece. It was very powerful.