Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Ulysses Kay: Works for Chamber Orchestra" (2007), Albany Records

Ulysses S. Kay, Jr. (1917-1995) was an African American composer, conductor and professor. He is profiled at Albany Records has just released the first major CD devoted exclusively to his works: Ulysses Kay: Works for Chamber Orchestra; Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra; Kevin Scott, Conductor; Troy 961 (2007). It was our pleasure to learn of the CD and its significance from the conductor:

As a former student of Ulysses Kay when he taught at Lehman College, I am
pleased to announce the release of a recording I conducted four years ago for
Albany Records. On the disc are four of his works for chamber orchestra that
are receiving their first recordings: Suite from the documentary
The Quiet One;
Three Pieces after Blake, for soprano and orchestra; Scherzi Musicali and Aulos,
for flute and chamber orchestra. This is the first volume in what is hoped to be
a series devoted to Kay's orchestral, operatic and chamber works. I hope you
can update your site to include this recording in your chapter devoted
to Kay.

Kevin Scott is also Project Director/Conductor for the Ulysses Kay Recording Project. His liner notes for the CD are admiringly titled “A Conductor's Recollection Of A Great American Composer”. The notes begin:

“My first encounter with the music of Ulysses Kay came when I first heard his
Short Overture from 1947, with the Oakland Youth Orchestra under
Robert Hughes that was televised over the PBS Network (and subsequently
recorded for Desto Records). Upon learning that Kay was teaching at Herbert
H. Lehman College in the Bronx, I knew I wanted to study composition with
this man. Later, when I heard his orchestral essay Markings on the third
volume of Columbia Masterworks Black Composers Series, it only confirmed
my resolve to learn from this master.”

A year later than he had hoped, Kevin Scott enrolled in Kay's composition class, which had only six or seven students. He recalls his professor's philosophy on composition, and mentions several important performances of his works:

“Though I never got as close to Uly as I would have liked, he always held my
compositions in high regard, though he felt that the melodic material in my
early scores suffered from endless meandering, and expressed to several
people that I wrote too little. He always felt that thematic and structural
concision was the best way to express oneself, even within a large canvass.
This being the case, I was present at several major performances of his
music, including the second performance of his
Quintet Concerto at the
Juilliard School, and the New York premieres of his evocative
with William Conrad narrating under Antal Dorati's baton at
Carnegie Hall, and his orchestral rhapsody
Chariots conducted by Zubin

As the years progressed and my musical avenues expanded to conducting,
I began to program several of Uly's compositions when deemed right for the
occasion, two of those works on this CD. It was my hope that one day I
would record several of his orchestral pieces for commercial release. In all,
Uly composed over four dozen
works for orchestra. Of this, about a fourth of
his output has been represented
on LP. Several of his important compositions,
including his 1967
Symphony, the Portrait Suite, Quintet Concerto, Southern
, Western Paradise, the ballet Danse Calinda and his most
programmed work
Overture: Of New Horizons, have never received major
commercial recordings, not to mention his five operas,numerous large-scale
choral works, three string quartets and several compositions for concert band
and wind ensemble. For one who received many awards and commissions
that culminated in performances led by the likes of Stokowski, Bernstein,
Mitropoulos, Dorati, Szell and Mehta during his lifetime, much of his music stil
remains unheard since his passing in 1995.

The last time I saw Uly was in 1994 when Leon Botstein conducted his Short
at Lincoln Center. It was then that Uly also embraced an old friend
whose music was also on the program, namely Morton Gould. Little did we
know that this event would be his last public appearance. As I escorted Uly to
his limousine after the performance, I could not help but feel sorry for a man
who was the pinnacle of wonderful
health all his life. The evils of Parkinson’s
disease caught up with him and destroyed not only his physical body, but also
impaired his creativity. His last commission, a work for
the New York
Philharmonic’s 150th anniversary, was never to be fulfilled.

It is the hope that this is the first of a projected multi-volume series devoted
to the orchestral, band, choral and operatic works of a great American
whose time should never leave.”

His first scoring assignment took place in 1947, when he was approached to
contribute a score for an experimental quasi-documentary entitled The Quiet
. Written by Janice Loeb, Sidney Meyers and Helen Levitt (who also
served as film editor), with commentary by James Agee and narrated by Gary
Merrill, this hour long film about an abused African-American child and his
coming of age is not dissimilar to the realism of Vittorio DeSica’s
The Bicycle
, or the allegorical world of Joseph Losey’s The Boy With Green Hair.”

The total time of the disc is 69:06. At its website, Albany Records gives this outline of the CD's program:

Ulysses Kay, composer
Suite from The Quiet One
Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra, Kevin Scott, conductor

Ulysses Kay, composer
Three Pieces After Blake, for Soprano and Orchestra
Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra, Kevin Scott, conductor, Janet Hopkins, soprano

Ulysses Kay, composer
Scherzi Musicali
Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra, Kevin Scott, conductor

Ulysses Kay, composer
Aulos, for Flute and Chamber Orchestra
Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra, Kevin Scott, conductor, Melanie Valencia, flute

Ulysses+Kay" rel="tag">Ulysses Kay
Chamber+Works" rel="tag">Chamber Works
Black+Composer" rel="tag">Black Composer
Kevin+Scott" rel="tag">Kevin Scott
classical+music" rel="tag">classical music
African+American" rel="tag">African American

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