Monday, June 22, 2009

Fort Smith Symphony Records Premieres of William Grant Still's 4th & 5th Symphonies on Naxos

[William Grant Still: Afro-American Symphony; Fort Smith Symphony; John Jeter, Conductor; Naxos 8.559174 (2005)]

Judith Anne Still recently informed AfriClassical of a forthcoming recording of music of her father, William Grant Still, by the Fort Smith Symphony, whose Music Director and Conductor is John Jeter. Maestro Jeter, in his 13th season with the orchestra, agreed to be interviewed about the project. Fort Smith is the second largest city in Arkansas, located across the Arkansas River from Oklahoma. The Fort Smith Symphony is the state's oldest orchestra, and is in its 86th season. It won critical acclaim in 2005 when it released a Naxos American Classics CD of William Grant Still's Symphony No. 1 (Afro-American), accompanied by world premieres of In Memoriam: The Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy (7:22) and Africa (Symphonic Poem) 27:51, on Naxos 8.559174. Among the many favorable reviews was one by MusicWeb International: “This is a great CD. The playing impressed me greatly. The Fort Smith Symphony under John Jeter obviously have a great sympathy for this music.”

The new disc is also a Naxos American Classics CD, and will feature William Grant Still's Symphony No. 4 (Autochthonous) (1947), Symphony No. 5 (Western Hemisphere) (1945, 1958) and Poem, for orchestra (1944) (12:30). The movements of the Autochthonous Symphony are found in the Works List by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma at 1. Moderato; 2. Slowly; 3. With a graceful lilt; 4. Slowly and reverently. The Western Hemisphere Symphony has these movements: 1. Briskly -– the vigorous, life-sustaining forces of the Hemisphere; 2. Slowly with utmost grace – the natural beautiful of the Hemisphere; 3. Energetically – the nervous energy of the Hemisphere; 4. Moderately – the overshadowing spirit of kindness and justice in the Hemisphere.

We asked John Jeter why he had first chosen to record the music of William Grant Still. He replied, “Well, it seemed like a good fit, and I had conducted a few of his works, previous to coming to Fort Smith, and it just seemed that he's really the closest thing the State of Arkansas has to a native composer.” “And also my experience with the music is that I felt that his works were pretty underrepresented in recording catalogs.” As for working with Naxos, John said: “They're the largest label in the world, and really their distribution, I think, is better than anyone else.” “The whole idea of making a CD is getting the music out there, right?” “And of course the first disc is available as a download, and this new one will be.” When asked about the expected release date, Maestro Jeter said: “It would be before the end of this calendar year.” We asked about his classical music broadcasts, to which he replied: “Yes, I do a show called Conductor's Choice on KUAF Radio. It's an NPR station in Fayetteville, Arkansas.” Jeter said he has done a number of weekly Music Education programs, and about 300-400 radio “music infomercials” on various topics, before switching to television. Speaking of the orchestra, he said “We're financially very stable, which is great news for us.” “It's a very positive setup here, all the musicians are very happy, they enjoy coming to play.” “The city is hugely supportive of the orchestra, so we're able to do quite a bit.” We asked the Music Director if he wanted to mention anything else, and he answered: “I would maybe just plug the William Grant Still Conference in November, and I know I'm going to be there doing a presentation on recording these pieces.” “I hope to see people there!”

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