Saturday, March 1, 2008

Celeste Headlee's Concert Introduces an Arts Intern to William Grant Still

[A Festive Sunday With William Grant Still; Cambria CD-1060 (1996); Cover Photo: William Grant Still and his granddaughter, Celeste Headlee]

Soprano Celeste Headlee is a granddaughter of William Grant Still. She and pianist Danielle DeSwert presented works of her grandfather in a noontime concert at the National Gallery of Art on Feb. 27. An intern at the National Endowment for the Arts blogs about the concert, which introduced him to William Grant Still:

“Coffee with Kofi: Espresso Hot-Chocolate, homemade.

Today I learned about William Grant Still (1895-1978). He studied music composition at the Oberlin Conservatory before moving to New York City; a rite of passage for most musical careers at the turn of the century. He became the first African-American to conduct a major symphony orchestra in this country, the first to conduct a major orchestra in the deep South, the first to conduct a radio orchestra in New York City, the first composer whose opera was televised over a national network, and the first to have an opera produced by a major company in the United States, Troubled Island c. 1949. It has never been performed again.”

“Today, I heard his granddaughter perform.

Celeste Headlee, a lyric alto and Detroit NPR correspondent, performed several of Still's art songs in the West Building Lecture Hall at the National Gallery of Art in a concert series honoring African-American History. Art songs are performed as mini movements without applause until the end of a cycle of four to six songs. Typically art songs are collaborations between vocalists and pianists offering composers' music to libretto, or prepared text.

Although most of Still's works were composed for a soprano, Headlee chose works that were executable for an alto with an extended range. I fell more in love with her emotional intent than with her artistry. It was obvious that maybe some of the songs should really have been performed by a soprano. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the intermittent discussion about the composer with whose style merged staunch classicism's strict form and functionality with the raw emotion in Afro-American themes.

For each art song Celeste completely changed her character and lived in the moment. I felt that this was most represented by Still's accompaniment to Poeme by Philippe Thoby-Marcelin. Full Post

Celeste+Headlee" rel="tag">Celeste Headlee
William+Still" rel="tag">William Still
Danielle+DeSwert" rel="tag">Danielle DeSwert
Black+History" rel="tag">Black History
African-American+History" rel="tag">African-American History
Classical+Music" rel="tag">Classical Music

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