Friday, September 11, 2015

Dominique-René de Lerma: Exploring Music - East Meets West 

Chaka: An opera in two chants

Akin Euba
City of Birmingham Touring Opera
Simon Halsey, Conductor
Music Research Institute MRI-0001CD (1998)

Fred Onovwerosuoke, Composer
Founder, African Musical Arts

PETER HENDERSON: Twenty-Four Studies in African Rhythms,
works for piano by Fred Onovwerosuoke
AMP Records AGCD 2504 (2015)


Dominique-René de Lerma

            We spent a week with Bill McGlaughlin in early September, who took us on a tour of music from Asia, and Asian-influenced European music on his weekday NPR radio program, Exploring music.  This was yet another opportunity to avoid the seriously restricted diet we are normally served: the same old Grieg (who rarely does more than repeat what we have just heard), Vivaldi (who does the same, changing only keys and instrumentation), and all those other works that were starting to become tiresome by the time we left high school.   Bill falls back on some of these once in a while, but in new and vibrant performances.  Most of the time, however, he provides these within the chronological context of a biography (always excellent), or leaves the worn-out paths to illustrate the creativity of a lesser known composer.  Unlike other DJs, he is fearless in scheduling music that is not “audience-friendly,” which I doubt upsets his faithful following.
            That was rather much the case when he offered us works of contemporary Chinese and Japanese composers, whose athematic coloristic excursions often seemed to be sonic counterparts of textured brushstrokes, one at a time.  He took us also to southern Asia for the gamelan, whose texture was then the stimulus for some Westerners (not too impressive, however, with those who came after Debussy and Ravel).
            Africa is surely on the agenda very soon, and this will almost certainly be unknown territory for many.  Not the traditional music of Ghana, Nigeria, or Kenya, but those “art” composers who idealized these heritages. 
This should begin with Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika (God bless Africa) – that counterpart of both Lift every voice and We shall overcome, composed in 1897 by Enoch Mankayi Sontonga (ca.  1873-1905), an anthem for the Methodist school where he taught but which, with some changes, has virtually become the pan-African national hymn of devotion and liberation.   Various performances are available on the internet, including those from an integrated rugby match in 2012 at Port Elizabeth:
Several works are available on CD by Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia, the revered composer and musicologist, born in Ghana in 1921.  African Music Publishers (#AMP 2081) has issued a CD in 2008, African art music for flute, that includes his Republic suite for flute and piano, performed by Wendy Hymes, with Darryl Hollister, piano.  Works of other contemporary Africans -- Joshua Uzoigwe (1946-2005)  and Bongani Ndodana-Breen (1935-) are on this innovative recording, including Three pieces by the soloist’s husband, Fred Onouvwerusuoke, a Ghanaian-Nigerian resident in the United States, born in 1960, who is clearly one of the major figures in contemporary music.  His Twenty-four studies in African rhythms, available both in print and on CD, are marvelous collections of challenges for any pianist (a stimulus for any composer and a thrill for any listener) – a Black counterpart to both Chopin and Liszt.  The performance on this year’s CD (AMP Records AGCD 2504 (2015), so faithfully and excitingly performed by piano virtuoso Peter Henderson, will be particularly astonishing with reference to the score, and this is only one of “Fred O’s” recorded works.
There are yet other figures whose compositions merit serious attention: Akin Euba (1935-) and his opera, Chaka, Fela Sowande (1905-1987), Samuel Akpabot (1932-2000), Ayo Bankole (1935-1976), Thomas Ekundayo Phillips (1884-1969), Andile Khumalo, Solomon Linda (1909–1962), Princess Constance Magogo Sibilile Mantithi Ngangezinye kaDinuzulu (1900–1984), Neo Muyanga, Joseph Shabalala (1941-), Justinian Tamusuza (1951-)…
I am old enough to remember when Israel became a nation in 1948.  My first reaction was not political: I wondered if we would now hear a new dialect in music, one like Bloch that was more authentic than we had come to know with Ravel, Saint-Saëns, and Prokofiev.  As Africa has now emerged from the yoke of colonialism and apartheid, that new perspective is here.

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