Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Kevin Scott: Last week I posted on my Facebook page one of my strongest rants of how black classical composers and conductors face the worst discrimination in classical music.

Kevin Scott

Earlier today AfriClassical posted:

Kevin Scott commented:

Last week I posted on my Facebook page one of my strongest rants of how black classical composers and conductors face the worst discrimination in classical music. It is bad enough that we receive this treatment from white musicians, many of whom simply don't know the existence of black composers and conductors, or choose not to acknowledge us, but when you deal with a sizable portion of the black community you are viewed as a pariah because you have chosen not to conform to your heritage in music (jazz, R&B, gospel or rap).

Such is the case where I also mentioned that no fewer than three black conductors - the Americans Kazem Abdullah and Brandon Keith Brown, and the German Kevin John Edusei - have lucrative conducting careers in Germany, with Abdullah serving the music director in Aachen and Edusei the music director of the Munich Symphony Orchestra. Here in this country, you have Andre Raphel leading the Wheeling Symphony in West Virginia and Michael Morgan conducting California's Oakland Symphony, where he's been the music director since 1990, the longest position any black conductor has held with any symphony orchestra in this nation.

Yet this simply is not enough. There are far too many black male conductors out there, and when you do find them most likely they're either in charge of a collegiate orchestra or wind ensemble, or even a community-based ensemble such as myself. The chances of a black conductor being viewed as a possible candidate for a major American orchestra seems slim these days, and if one is invited to perform with a major orchestra, nine times out of ten we're asked to participate either in a Black History Month or Martin Luther King, Jr. concert. This also applies to black composers, meaning that the only chance you might get to hear their music is at one of these concerts and not on a subscription program. Recently, Kirk Smith elicited high praise for his performance with the Houston Symphony on a Black History Month concert, but at the same time he should be welcomed with open arms to lead the orchestra on a subscription concert and not the one-shot only gig.

Because of these issues and more, this forces many conductors or color to either start their own orchestra, or to seek better opportunities by performing on the European continent, where they are treated with the same respect and equality as white American conductors. Even sadder is the scarcity of black women conductors, who do not get treated with the same respect or courtesy as do many of their white colleagues.

It should be noted that three days after The Dream Unfinished concert, Joseph Jones is conducting a concert with Orchestra Amadeus (New York) dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy in Orlando, performing Beethoven's ninth symphony alongside music of Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland and John Corigliano. This is not the first time Jones, a young black composer-conductor who studied at Peabody in Baltimore, has done this. Since 2010 he has led concerts with his orchestra, whose mission statement is "Social Justice through Classical Music", raising funds for victims of tragedy in Haiti, Nepal and the Boston Marathon, while showcasing new talent in the New York area. He has also been a controversial figure because of his stance on these issues and much more, and solely publicizes his concerts using Facebook and Twitter to get the word out, as well as recruiting musicians to join Orchestra Amadeus. He has yet to be invited to guest-conduct more established orchestras.

And this goes for John as well. Even though he has several major American orchestras, they have been special one-off concerts where he is not able to perform the repertoire that has established his name, basically forgotten and unknown American composers from the first half of the last century, and has yet to be invited to perform on subscription concerts with major, internationally-recognized orchestras. This is an oversight that must be addressed with continued and tenacious concern.

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