Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Aeolians of Oakwood University
Alabama Symphony’s annual tributes to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have long offered a wealth of musical possibilities. Music by African-American composers, arrangements of spirituals, well-known soloists, including high-tech artist DJ Spooky, have, in turn, honored the civil rights leader’s legacy.
Dr. King would have relished these “Reflect and Rejoice” concerts. He studied piano as a child, sang in the church choir and had an abiding love for Beethoven. His wife, Coretta Scott King, studied trumpet, piano and voice at Antioch College and the New England Conservatory.
On Sunday at the Alys Stephens Center, conductor Michael Morgan channeled Dr. King’s musical soul with a program that reached from the 19th century black English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (once called the “African Mahler”) to 34-year-old Sphinx artist Jessie Montgomery, whose career is quickly on the rise. And, of course, Beethoven.
Morgan and ASO set the pace in a spirited, uplifting reading of Coleridge-Taylor’s richly orchestrated “Danse nègre,” the final movement of his “African Suite.” An arrangement of the Maybrick-Weatherly ballad, “The Holy City,” brought The Aeolians, a remarkably supple choir from Oakwood University in Huntsville, to full voice for the first time, their grand waves of crescendos defining this reading.
Montgomery’s “Starburst,” composed in 2012, was the concert’s lone modern work. An attractive, four-minute work for strings alone, its intricately woven melodies are driven by lively, yet understated rhythmic patterns, though ASO’s strings were a bit too ragged to fully capture the work’s intimacy.