Monday, February 28, 2011

Aaron Dworkin: 'Welcome to the first edition of the Sphinx Organization’s international newsletter!'

[Aaron Dworkin (b. 1970), Founder and President, The Sphinx Organization]

AfriClassical is proud to present Aaron Dworkin's introduction of the Sphinx Organization's new international newsletter, which can be read in its entirety at this web address

"Dear Friends,
Welcome to the first edition of the Sphinx Organization’s international newsletter!
In preparing this message, I began reflecting on the vision of the Sphinx Organization—the one overarching goal that drives our work each day— 'Sphinx envisions a world in which classical music reflects cultural diversity and plays a role in the everyday lives of youth.'

"We know the challenges of access to the arts and diversity do not stop at our country’s borders, but are challenges faced by all nations across the world. As we are coming up on 15 years of building diversity in classical music, Sphinx is embarking on a mission to truly impact the world and see our vision realized. From Venezuela to South Africa, Paraguay to Belgium, Sphinx artists are bring diversity to classical music and engaging youth typically excluded from our art form.

"We would particularly like to thank the U.S. State Department and the fantastic advocates at our embassies around the world who support our vision and believe in uplifting the youth of their respective countries. We also thank our many partner organizations that are working on the ground in a number of countries and share our vision. These relationships are invaluable to our work as we learn from each other and discover new ways to improve access, build community, and truly diversify classical music in every sense of the word.

"I hope you enjoy reading this newsletter to discover what Sphinx artists are doing around the world to bring us closer to our vision. If you would like to continue to receive future versions of the international newsletter, please contact Caitlin Ilich via e-mail at
With Warm Regards,
Aaron Dworkin
Founder and President
[Aaron Dworkin (b. 1970) is profiled at and has a personal website at:]

April 23 Tribute in NYC for Afro-Cuban Composer & Guitarist Leo Brouwer, Born March 1, 1939

[Leo Brouwer]

The Afro-Cuban classical guitarist, conductor and composer Leo Brouwer is profiled at His publisher is Chester Novello, Leo Brouwer was named Juan Leovigildo Brouwer when he came into the world in Havana, Cuba on March 1, 1939. His enormous influence on guitar music in particular and classical music in general is demonstrated by more than a hundred recordings on which he has played, composed or conducted.

Brouwer's compositions reflect classical, Afro-Cuban, jazz and avant-garde influences. The legendary Brazilian guitarist Odair Assad is receiving critical acclaim for his performances of Sonata del Caminante, which was composed by Leo Brouwer for Assad's first solo recording on GHA Records. The composer's many film scores, including Like Water for Chocolate, have brought his music to the attention of a huge audience around the world. Among the perennial audience favorites are Leo Brouwer's arrangements of Beatles tunes for guitar.

Leo Brouwer is one of the most visible figures in classical music. Every day brings stories of new performances, recordings, festivals and even percussion experiments involving his music for guitar and other instruments. To give just one example, the Office of Leo Brouwer organized on Feb. 19, 2011 in which the acclaimed instrumentalist Edin Karamazov performed works of J.S. Bach and Leo Brouwer in a basilica in Havana.

The renowned 92nd Street Y of New York City has announced plans for a tribute to Leo Brouwer on April 23, 2011:
“Saturday, April 23, 2011, 8pm
“Benjamin Verdery, artistic director
Additional artists to be announced
“The series ends with a succession of guitarists saluting the beloved Cuban composer/guitarist Leo Brouwer (b. 1939). His works have become standards and some were written specifically for tonight's artists, making this a particularly personal and joyous celebration.
“Pre-concert talk at 7 pm with Benjamin Verdery of Yale University. Subscribe and Save! This event can also be purchased as part of the following subscription(s): Art of the Guitar-Series Subscription.” Pianist Harold Bradford tells students 'people from all over the world are involved in classical music.'

[Pianist Harold Bradford (San Francisco Chronicle)]

Edward Guthman, Special to The Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle February 28, 2011
Monday, February 28, 2011
“Every Tuesday and Wednesday night, Harold Bradford travels back in time at Goat Hill Pizza. The mode of transport is piano and the points of navigation include classical, pop, folk and religious hymns. Bradford, 62, teaches piano lab at Bay Area Technology School in North Oakland and plays piano each Sunday at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Richmond. He lives in South San Francisco with his wife of three years, Khanida, and has two grown daughters and a son.

“On top of the piano at Goat Hill Pizza, I have a poster with a picture of the 20th Century Limited, the world's most famous passenger train. It reads, 'Harold Bradford Piano Adventures. Where shall we go today?' A typical set starts with a classical piece I'm composing, or an ancient folk hymn from anywhere in the world. My wife always requests that I start with our favorite hymn, 'Be Thou My Vision.'"

“I grew up in Charleston, W.Va.. My father was a dentist, one of the first African American dentists in West Virginia. He practiced until he was 89. And my mother was a nurse and a visual artist. Her family was Cherokee. My whole life has been about church, music, school, family. Everybody in the family played and sight-read music. I was first inspired by my mom and my big sister, Daisy. I started taking lessons when I was 9, and I would imitate them.”

“In second grade I was one of the first African American students to enter an integrated school in Charleston - the only one in my class. I started blending in more when I played music. I played trombone in the band and won a master bandsman's award. In eighth grade my music teacher played Brahms First Symphony for us. That really triggered my focus on classical music. From Brahms, I became interested in Bach and Handel, Rachmaninoff, Debussy.

“From my piano teacher I learned about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), an African British composer, and George Bridgetower (1778-1860), an African Polish violinist who was a friend of Beethoven. Here I am playing Beethoven and Mozart and Bach and she says, 'You know, people from all over the world are involved in classical music.' I share that with my students. A lot of them feel disconnected from classical music. I tell them, 'It's not confined to just one culture or group of people.' Once they feel they're a part of it - and understand that their people were part of its creation - it's easier for them to succeed in classical music.” [George Bridgetower and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor are profiled at, whose page on George Bridgetower was researched and written by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma]

Sunday, February 27, 2011

'William Grant Still (1895-1978) represents a captivating blend of African-American, Latin American and European music.'

[ABOVE: William Grant Still (Photo is the sole property of William Grant Still Music, and is used with permission. BELOW: Reverse side of CD cover, Allégresse: Fresh Ink; Copyright 2010 Allégresse]

William Grant Still (1895-1978) is profiled at, where a complete Works List by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma is found. William Grant Still Music and The Master-Player Library is “The original source for the music of American composer William Grant Still.” The firm's website is:

On February 15, 2011 AfriClassical posted: “'Miniatures' of William Grant Still Recorded by Trio Allégresse on CD 'Fresh Ink.'” We noted that “Allégresse Trio is comprised of Ellen Bottorff, piano; Annie Gnojek, flute; and Margaret Marco, oboe. Now that we have a copy of the CD, we will present excerpts from the liner notes:

“Allégresse, the French word for 'joy', aptly depicts the graceful artistry of this inspiring trio. Friends and collaborators for nearly a decade, Annie, Margaret, and Ellen formed this exciting ensemble to explore the rich and varied repertoire for flute, oboe, and piano.” The website of the Trio is: The CD is available at:

“Miniatures seemed the obvious addition to a program of American chamber music masterpieces for flute, oboe and piano. Each of the work's five movements pays homage to folk music of the Americas. I Ride An Old Paint is a cowboy song from the U.S. and tells of a cowboy's love for his horse. Adolorido, a well-known tune from Mexico, depicts the tale of betrayal and sadness. A spiritual from the U.S., Jesus Is A Rock In The Weary Land highlights the bluesy piano. Yaravi is a poignant lament from Peru and A Frog Went A-Courtin' is a 400-year old favorite fom the U.S.

“The music of William Grant Still (1895-1978) represents a captivating blend of African-American, Latin American and European music. The composer's eclectic training included studies with W.C. Handy, Edgar Varese and George Chadwick. At the age of 14, he taught himself to play the oboe among other instruments. He went on to play oboe professionally including stints with the National Guard Band and in a New York pit band. Still's long and productive career included several significant firsts, including being the first African-American composer to have his works performed by major symphony orchestras. He was awarded honorary doctorates from Harvard, Oberlin and Bates College and a Guggenheim fellowship.”

Comment by email:
Hello Bill! Thanks so much for the post! We really appreciate it. Take care, Annie

Violist Eliesha Nelson & Pianist Glen Inanga Planning CD of 'Russian Romantic repertoire' this Fall

[ABOVE: Pianists Glen Inanga and Jennifer Micallef of the Micallef-Inanga Duo BELOW: Quincy Porter, Complete Viola Works; Eliesha Nelson, viola; John McLaughlin Williams, violin, piano, harpsichord; Douglas Rioth, harp; Northwest Sinfonia, John McLaughlin Williams, conductor; Dorian Recordings DSL 90911 (73:47) (2009)]

On Feb. 24, 2011 AfriClassical posted: “Plain Dealer: 'With bow in one hand, pacifier in another, Cleveland Orchestra violist stands out as both artist, mother.'” The article, by Zachary Lewis, revealed this information about a future recording now in the works:

Now she's putting the finishing touches on a second disc due out in the fall, an album of Russian viola sonatas with pianist Glen Inanga.” AfriClassical has interviewed the Nigerian pianist Glen Inanga, so we forwarded the blog post to him and said we were eager to hear the CD he and Eliesha Nelson are making, because the two are both virtuoso performers.

Glen replied with a bit more information on the project: Thanks. I am eager to hear the finished product too as this is indeed some great Russian Romantic repertoire.” Glen Inanga is Nigerian and Jennifer Micallef is from Malta. They have made two recordings together as the Micallef-Inanga Duo. 'Third Stream Music: Leo Brouwer and Bill Harris'

[Leo Brouwer]

AfriClassical has posted recently about an experiment by drummer Bill Harris which involves a recorded composition of the Afro-Cuban composer, guitarist and conductor Leo Brouwer (b. 1939), profiled at This blogger is enthusiastic about the experiment:

Feb 24, 4:19pm
Those Who Dig
My favorite musicians are the ones who are not bound to the expectations of normative technique or repertoire. That being said I recently ran into a 'musical experiment' from Bill Harris where he performs a transcription of Leo Brouwer's Danza Caracteristica for drum kit alongside Manuel Barrueco's recording. Inventive, thought provoking, unique, cool. What's not to love?”

Dallas Post: 'Kenyon College Chamber Singers Will Perform' at 7 PM in Shavertown March 6

[J. S. Mzilikazi Khumalo (b. 1932); Kenyon College Chamber Singers]

The South African Composer, Arranger & Choral Director J. S. Mzilikazi Khumalo is also a Professor Emeritus of African Languages. He was born June 20, 1932 and is profiled at

Posted: February 27
“The Fine Arts Committee of Shavertown United Methodist Church will host a performance by the The Kenyon College Chamber Singers at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 6 at the church, 163 N. Pioneer Ave., Shavertown. The concert is open to the public and a free will offering will be received. The Chamber Singers, consisting of 54 undergraduates chosen by competitive audition, is Kenyon’s premier touring ensemble. The group is noted for its versatility of vocal style and broad repertoire.

“The Chamber Singers will present an eclectic mix of a cappella choral repertoire on their 2011 Spring Tour. Music by Johannes Brahms, Jan Sweelinck, Randall Thompson, L. Dean Nuernberger and Roelof Temmingh will be performed in addition to music from South Africa, which this year includes “Bawo, Thixo Somandla” (Lord, God Omnipotent), arranged by Mzilikazi Khumalo, and “UMaconsana” (Moonshine) by Reuben Tholakele Caluza. For more information, call 881-9468.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

New York City Housing Symphony Orchestra in 'Black History Month Concert' at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall Mon., Feb. 21

[Maestro Kay George Roberts]

Kay George Roberts of the University of Massachusetts Lowell was featured by AfriClassical last year in a fascinating series based on a cover article, For Kay Roberts, Strings Are the Thing; UMass Lowell Magazine, Spring 2009. Professor Roberts informs us that she conducted the Black History Month concert of The New York City Housing Symphony Orchestra on Monday, February 21, 2011:

“The New York City Housing Symphony Orchestra, now in its 40th Anniversary Season, celebrated Black History Month at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall at 8:00 PM, Monday, February 21, 2011. This Gala Benefit concert featured classical and jazz music by composers of African heritage— Duke Ellington, William Grant Still, Tunde Jegede (British), Adolphus Hailstork, William Foster McDaniel and Jack Jeffers. Eugene Moye, principal cellist of American Symphony Orchestra, was the featured soloist in Jegede’s Lamentation for cello and orchestra, a New York premiere, Kay George Roberts conducted.

“Long before the Sphinx Organization started to build diversity in classical music, there was Janet Wolfe. The 96-year old Wolfe, a long-time patron of minority musicians in New York City, founded New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Symphony Orchestra in 1971.” [Duke Ellington (1899-1974), Adolphus C. Hailstork (b. 1941) and William Grant Still (1895-1978) are profiled at, which features a comprehensive Works List for William Grant Still by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma]

NPR: 'At Fisk University, A Tradition Of Spirituals'

[(Courtesy of Doug Seroff) The Fisk University Jubilee Quartet in 1909. Left to right: Alfred G. King (1st bass), James A. Myers (2nd tenor), Noah W. Ryder (2nd bass), and John W. Work II (1st tenor).]

by Jeff Bossert
February 26, 2011
“For nearly 150 years, a largely black private university in Nashville has prided itself on its liberal arts studies and its music. Vocal ensembles at Fisk University have been there about as long as the campus itself. But the songs performed there today could have sounded very different if it hadn't been for the efforts of one of the school's first music directors.
“A new collection from Archeophone Records, an Illinois label that revives old recordings, not only preserves that effort but also reopens the debate on whether so-called Negro spirituals are simply cruel reminders of slavery. The collection is titled There Breathes a Hope: The Legacy of John Work II and His Fisk Jubilee Quartet, 1909-1916. Between 1909 and 1916, the Fisk Jubilee Quartet recorded more than 40 songs. John Work II was a scholar, musician and anthropologist who collected these songs from the days of slavery, had them published and recorded many of them with the quartet.”

“When Work came to Fisk University in 1891, the institution had already used music as a way to save the school from insolvency. The first Fisk Jubilee Singers toured the world, performing for Queen Victoria, among others. And what they were performing was just as significant: They switched from operatic arias to religious songs like "There Is a Balm in Gilead." But by the time Work came to Fisk, the choir had disbanded and was all but forgotten, in part because of those very songs. 'Because of their very sacred nature, they had been an essential part of the insular slave worship,' author Doug Seroff says. 'Further, white minstrel performers had seized on their spiritual songs and subjected them to parody and ridicule — ridiculing the slave's religion as well as the songs.'

“Seroff has traced the earliest history of black vocal harmonies and written the liner notes for the new collection. He says there was a reluctance to perform spirituals following emancipation because they were seen as a degrading reminder of slave life. Freed men were anxious to put this era behind them, he says, and saw a college education as a way to achieve that. But Seroff says Work saw things differently. 'For John Work, the spirituals preserved the religious faith and wisdom of his forebears,' Seroff says. 'And he took great pride in the racial heritage of sacred folk music, especially the fact that the songs in his mind contained no trace of hatred or revenge against the slave masters and oppressors.'”

“John Work II was the son of a slave. He eventually convinced the university to let the singers go back out on tour. Reduced from a chorus to a men's quartet for financial reasons, they made their first recordings in 1909 for the Victor label. The Fisk Jubilee Quartet became messengers for black music, says Tim Brooks, author of the book Lost Sounds, a history of the earliest African-American recordings. 'They only toured in the North, of course, and usually to a kind of upper-educated group, and churches, and things like that,' Brooks says. 'They didn't play vaudeville or broad-based entertainment. So when those records came out from Victor — the big record company in 1910 — they spread across the country. People everywhere, including people who would never allow a black person in their front parlor, bought those records.' Some blacks felt the Fisk Jubilee Singers were pandering to white audiences. But Brooks says there were fans, including Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorak, who believed black Americans should look to their own roots and traditions for music, and then build on them.”

“Surprisingly, John Work II's contributions to African-American music on the Fisk campus were largely overshadowed by those of his son. John Work III spent more than 40 years at Fisk, not only as a student and teacher but also as leader of the Jubilee Singers. He ultimately became the first African-American chairman of the school's music department." 'Cellist Donald White was the first black musician hired by the Cleveland Orchestra in 1957.'

[Cellist Donald White was the first black musician hired by the Cleveland Orchestra in 1957. He was a native of Richmond. / Photo by Herbert Ascherman, Cleveland Orchestra]

Richmond, Indiana
“Fast Fact About Local Black History
Q: What 1943 Richmond High School graduate was the first black musician hired by the Cleveland Orchestra?
A: Cellist Donald White was hired in 1957 by the Cleveland Orchestra and performed with the organization for nearly 40 years.

“White, a middle child among seven, played tuba as a youth. When his sister began studying the cello, he developed a fascination with it. He started to play cello at age 16. After White was drafted by the U.S. Navy in 1943, he played bass tuba and peckhorn in the Navy band. He did not give up his cello studies. After leaving the Navy, White studied for a year at Earlham College before seeking a music degree at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

“In Chicago, White performed with an African-American orchestra and the Chicago Civic Orchestra, according to a biography posted online at The History Makers website,
http://www.thehistorymakers, which offers oral and written histories of African-Americans who have influenced history.

“In 1953, White earned a fellowship at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. While earning his master's degree at the university, he was assistant principal cellist of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and worked with the University of Hartford Symphony Orchestra. White auditioned for the Cleveland Orchestra in 1957 and retired from its service in 1995.

“His wife, Dolores White, is a composer and pianist who worked at several colleges and music schools before retiring in 2000. She has had numerous commissions and grants to compose. Donald White died July 31, 2005. His wife continues to live in the Cleveland area. Their children, Darrow and Diana, followed their parents into the musical field. Diana White-Gould is a choral teacher at the Cleveland School of the Arts, where under her leadership, 26 students won the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City, according to a Feb. 6 The Plain Dealer newspaper article.”

Trumpet World: 'Samuel Coleridge-Taylor; The Man to Listen To'

[Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Violin Concerto; Antonin Dvorak: Violin Concerto; Philippe Graffin, Violin; Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra; Michael Hankinson, Conductor; Avie AV0044 (2004) (62:43)]

Saturday, February 26, 2011
“I remember going to library and asking for some books about Samuel Coleridge Taylor. I had heard, via a CD, a South African Orchestra perform his compositions. And the librarian responded in a very arrogant tone, 'You mean Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He was an English poet.' No, I replied. I meant what I said and in the order in which I had said the name - Samuel Coleridge Taylor. That day, that librarian made a great discovery, too. Brother Samuel, 1875-1912, was an accomplished British violinist and composer. He was often referred to as the African Mahler.

To learn more about him, click this link:

WRTI is celebrating his music in honor of Black History Month. Listen to Five Negro Melodies for Piano Trio Op. 59, No. 1. Scroll down to Black History Month on WRTI.

Friday, February 25, 2011

John Malveaux Asks NAACP To Add Categories of Classical Music and Opera To 'Image Awards'

[The 42nd NAACP Image Awards are scheduled for Friday, March 4, 2011.]

John Malveaux of MusicUNTOLD writes:

“After receiving the current issue of The Crisis Magazine, I sent the following Letter to the Editor.

“To: Laura D. Blackburne, Chair
The Crisis Board of Directors

The first paragraph of your publisher’s letter, Winter Issue 2011, mentions 'stereotypical images'.

"Later, I find the following quote: 'This distortion of the images of African Americans has consequences. The way in which we view ourselves; as well as how we are viewed by the rest of Americans and the world are shaped by these distorted images'.

"This issue also includes the official ballot for the 42nd NAACP IMAGE AWARDS as follows:

201. Outstanding New Artist

202. Outstanding Male Artist

203. Outstanding Female Artist

204. Outstanding Duo or Group or Collaboration

205. Outstanding Jazz Album

206. Outstanding Gospel Album

207. Outstanding World Music Album

208. Outstanding Music Video

209. Outstanding Song

210. Outstanding Album

“Awareness of African American history and achievements in classical and opera is little known and much neglected by main media and black media. This is to suggest that The CRISIS add categories to heighten awareness and acknowledgement classical and opera categories. If we don’t recognize our own outside the 'stereotypical images', we diminish the opportunity to change the distorted images.
John Malveaux”

Comment by email:
Very well written, John. Bravo! FredO

Barrie Examiner: 'Nathaniel Dett offers gift of song' via Nathaniel Dett Chorale, led by Brainerd Blyden-Taylor

[Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, Conductor/Artistic Director, The Nathaniel Dett Chorale]

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale will perform with the King Edward Chorale on March 6 at Collier United Church, 112 Collier St., Barrie, Ontario at 7 p.m. For ticket information, call 705-734-0116.

Updated 1 day ago
“Music and culture meet next weekend in what will likely be one of the most eclectic concerts of the season. The double choral event features the King Edward Choir and the Nathaniel Dett Chorale performing a program of Afrocentric music. The Nathaniel Dett Chorale is one of the only professional, largely black choirs, in North America and was the first of its kind in Canada when conductor/ artistic director Brainerd Blyden-Taylor founded the group back in 1998.

"The mission then is the same as it is now -- to build bridges between people and dissolve stereotypes through music. Part of that process is learning about the history and cultural context of the songs, which in turn, affects how the music is sung, and ultimately how it is heard by an audience. Working with Blyden-Taylor on all of it provided an element of excitement for the classically-based King Edward Choir.

"'Spirituals have many, many layers,' the charismatic Blyden-Taylor tells the choir during a rehearsal this week, describing how a slave on the auction block might feel, being poked and prodded like a cow for sale to the high bidders. Or how the words heaven and freedom were synonymous in some songs. Or how freedom wasn't necessarily the driving force in every black person's life -- some were not prepared to pay the price of freedom because a full belly in the moment meant more than a nebulous dream. Telling the stories behind the music not only brings the songs to life, it helps the choir translate it into sound, rhythms, melodies, words and syncopation.

"'(It's) good for the choir,' said Barbara McCann, artistic director and conductor of the King Edward Choir, who received a Trillium Grant to have Blyden-Taylor conduct the concert. 'We're trying to bridge different kinds of music and culture, everything. The choir (King Edward) is going to be part of that experience.' The 21-voice Nathaniel Dett Chorale is performing in the first half the program and the two choirs join together in the second half. The highlight of the first half is expected to be the chorale's performance of the Nguzo Saba Suite, a major work that was also recorded on the group's new CD, released in December 2010. The title means seven principles in Swahili and it grew out of the Kwanzaa Festival which was created some 40 years ago in response to the Watts Riots in California. The seven principles run the gamut from unity to self-determination, cooperative economics, and faith. The music is a mix of classical, gospel and jazz and it will be sung in English.

“The choir is named for Nathaniel Dett, a celebrated black composer who was born in Drummondville, near Niagara Falls, Canada, in 1882. During his lifetime, he earned numerous degrees, performed at Carnegie Hall, as well as for two presidents, Hoover and Roosevelt, taught at several schools, was an organist for a time in Niagara Falls. Through it all he was dedicated to black music. He was also a founding member of the National Association for Negro Musicians. He died in 1943 in Michigan.

The King Edward Choir joins the Nathaniel Dett Chorale for the second half of the program which will include a couple of Dett's compositions, arrangements of various spirituals and a jazz arrangement of Abide with Me by Greg Jasperse. Blyden-Taylor was born in Trinidad Tobago, his background on his father's side African, his mother's Scottish.” [R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) is profiled at, which features a complete Works List by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma of Lawrence University Conservatory.]

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Plain Dealer: 'With bow in one hand, pacifier in another, Cleveland Orchestra violist stands out as both artist, mother'

[ABOVE: Eliesha Nelson with her son, William, and husband, Jon Cline, at the family's Cleveland home. Cline works at the University of Arizona in Tucson. BELOW: Violist Eliesha Nelson is already doing more than most people do in a lifetime. In addition to playing and touring with the Cleveland Orchestra, she's raising a toddler largely single-handedly and making recordings, the first of which just won a Grammy. (Scott Shaw, The Plain Dealer)]

Published: Tuesday, February 22, 2011
“CLEVELAND, Ohio -- As a black woman from North Pole, Alaska, violist Eliesha Nelson is by default one of the most distinctive members of the Cleveland Orchestra. She's also one of the busiest -- and one of the most extraordinary. Recently, Nelson set herself apart even further by making a Grammy Award-winning recording of Quincy Porter's viola music. Her debut album was nominated in four categories and won for its engineering. And if that weren't enough to make you feel like a slacker, consider this: Nelson is also what she calls a 'married single mother,' with a toddler at home and a husband working in Arizona. What's more, she just recorded a new disc.

"'Between my parents, I'm fairly disciplined,' said Nelson, the daughter of a teacher and an Air Force sergeant. 'That's how I got this project done.' Nelson may be a musical performer, but her life is an amazing balancing act. Even without her recording work, her juggling of orchestral and domestic duties would be remarkable. Most working parents can relate to parts of Nelson's life -- caring for a 16-month-old (William) while holding down a job entailing private practice, daytime rehearsals and evening performances. Also likely to be familiar is the environment at Nelson's Cleveland home, where stuffed animals and children's books occupy as much space as history texts and classical CDs.

“Far fewer have any notion of traveling the world with a toddler in tow, as Nelson, 37, does on a surprisingly regular basis. Like every member of the Cleveland Orchestra, Nelson spends a large part of her life in hotels, airplanes and buses. Thus has young William become a jet-setter. Already, he's visited Miami, New York, Japan, South Korea and a broad swath of Europe. He took his first steps last year in Lucerne, Switzerland. A full-time au pair and helpful relatives are her lifelines, and her husband, Jon Cline, comes to the rescue whenever he's home from his job as a research specialist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Cline is a trained musician whose mother is a former dean of the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore (she was the first black dean at Peabody and, at the time, the only female dean of a major U.S. conservatory).

“Still, a nursing mother can stray only so far from her child. Then there's the sleep factor. Last month, on tour in Miami, the free time her colleagues in the orchestra had for running, playing golf and boating, Nelson used to take naps. When others were packing up clothes and instruments, she was reloading diaper bags and making sure not to leave behind any toys, supplies or bedtime stories. I can't believe I'm still alive,' Nelson said. 'Everything is about child care and work. There's no shopping or sightseeing. I don't have the time or energy to do anything else. It's more difficult than most people realize. It's hard on the body.'

“How Nelson arrived at this point, and a seat at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, is no less incredible. Most musicians in the Cleveland Orchestra have a story to tell, but none has one like hers. 'I'm just so proud of what she's done,' said principal violist Robert Vernon, Nelson's former teacher at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees. 'She was educated here and continues to give back and represent everything that's great about Cleveland.'

“Viola entered her life almost by chance, during a performance at CIM's Encore School for Strings. Vernon heard Nelson play and suggested she reconsider the viola she'd sampled in Texas. Many young artists would have shrugged off the idea, but Nelson took him up on it, re-enrolling at CIM and entering Vernon's studio for a master's degree in viola. 'She entrusted her talent to me and followed through,' Vernon said. 'It's a credit to her that she was able to stand out. She didn't take anything for granted.' Astoundingly, two years later, on a viola borrowed from CIM, Nelson took an audition to be acting principal violist of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra and won the job. Within a year, dying in Florida's heat, she went on to win positions with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra. She joined the latter in 2000 and quickly proved a valuable addition.”

“Fast-forward to 2007, when John McLaughlin Williams, a multitalented musician and friend from school, finally persuaded Nelson to make a recording. She'd held out because recordings are expensive, time-consuming ventures, and the subject has to be just right.” “Months of research later, Nelson and Williams settled on Quincy Porter, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former teacher at CIM whose music for the viola was both compelling and little-known. Funding for the $75,000 project came mostly from their own pockets but also from a pool of Cleveland donors.”

“Life took another dramatic turn in January 2009. Just when it seemed her days couldn't get any fuller, Nelson learned she was pregnant. This would be her greatest project yet. Weight-lifting, reading and sewing, her nonmusical hobbies, would have to drop off her list of priorities.” “Luckily, the bulk of the work on Porter was already finished. She'd even posed for the album's cover photo, in Lake Erie, wearing a dress made by local designer Inda Blatch-Geib.”

“A big hit from the start
Then things really took off. Upon its release in September 2009, the Porter disc was an immediate success. Critics loved it, colleagues praised it, and it soon became one of the most popular recordings in the Luminus catalog.” “The four Grammy nominations -- for best chamber music performance, best instrumental soloist performance with orchestra, best engineered classical album and classical producer of the year -- came as the icing on an already rich cake.” “But her life isn't going back to normal. Not completely. Now she's putting the finishing touches on a second disc due out in the fall, an album of Russian viola sonatas with pianist Glen Inanga.

Detroit News on Rick Robinson: 'Bassist to play two concerts this weekend'

[Rick Robinson (Detroit Symphony Orchestra)]

Last Updated: February 24. 2011 1:00AM
A member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for more than two decades, double bassist Rick Robinson will perform a pair of concerts this weekend.
On Saturday at 8 p.m., see him with other members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at the First Presbyterian Church (529 Hendrie St. in Royal Oak). They will perform music by black composers such as Duke and Mercer Ellington, Adolphus Hailstork and others. Members of the CutTime Players and the Brazeal Dennard Chorale will also take the stage. Tickets, $20-$50, can be purchased by calling (248) 860-6786. [Duke Ellington and Adolphus Hailstork are profiled at]

Fayetteville State U.: Dr. Diane Phoenix-Neal in 'Music for Viola' by Afro-Cuban Composer Tania León March 1, 5:30 PM

[ABOVE: Tania León BELOW: Dr. Diane Phoenix-Neal]

The Afro-Cuban composer and conductor Tania León is profiled at and at Her music is among that which will be performed at Fayetteville State University on March 1:

Fayetteville State University
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
By Public Relations
Performing and Fine Arts faculty members Dr. Diane Phoenix-Neal and Dr. Howard Kim will present a faculty artist recital entitled 'She Inspired: Modern Music for Viola Composed and Inspired by Women,' on Tuesday, March 1, 2011, at 5:30 pm in the Recital Hall of the Rosenthal Building at Fayetteville State University.

“The concert will feature modern music composed by or dedicated to women for viola alone and viola with piano. Common themes bind these musical works together and form a unique myriad of sound colors. These themes of inspiration includes: warmth, tenderness, loss, re-birth, self-discovery and love. The concert will feature music by Cuban born composer Tania Leon and culminate with a performance of Viola Sonata by dynamic American composer Libby Larsen, written in 2001.

Diane Phoenix-Neal is an Assistant Professor at Fayetteville State University, principal violist of the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival Orchestra, and a founding member of the chamber group Musica Harmonia. Howard Kim, Assistant Professor, pianist and music director of the FSU Opera Series, is a native of Los Angeles and holds degrees from UCLA and the Eastman School of Music. The concert is free and open to the public.

Trent Johnson Conducts Oratorio Singers in Buxtehude, Handel & PDQ Bach in Westfield NJ March 6 at 3 PM

[Trent Johnson]

The organist and conductor Trent Johnson of New Jersey sends news of a concert on Sunday, March 6, 2011 which includes a satirical work by P.D.Q. Bach, the alias of Prof. Peter Schickele:

"Hello Friends,
On Sunday, March 6, at 3pm I will be conducting the Oratorio Singers with soloists and members of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in 3 works. We will be presenting Buxtehude's Magnificat anima mea, Handel's Dettingen Te Deum and PDQ Bach's humorous creation, his Missa Hilarious SN20. Our soloists will be countertenor Jeffrey Mandelbaum, and bass-baritone Brace Negron.

The concert will take place at the First United Methodist Church, One East Broad Street, Westfield, NJ 07090, (908)233-4211. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $20 general admission, and $15 for students and seniors. I hope you can join us!
Trent Johnson “Within two years of DePreist's appointment, the Oregon Symphony was elevated to 'major' orchestra status.”

[The James DePreist Bust by Rip Caswell is on display at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, Oregon]

On February 24, 2011 The Chronicle of Philanthropy published a job announcement for Senior Vice President for Development. The announcement includes an overview of the history of the Oregon Symphony, including the period in which Maestro James DePreist was Music Director and Conductor, and enhanced the orchestra's standing:

Senior Vice President for Development
Organization: Oregon Symphony
Posted: February 24, 2011
“A dramatic era in the history of the Oregon Symphony commenced in 1980, with the appointment of James DePreist as Music Director and Conductor. Within two years of DePreist's appointment, the Oregon Symphony was elevated to 'major' orchestra status. In September 1984, DePreist oversaw the Symphony's move from Portland Civic Auditorium to its current home, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall within the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. The move allowed the orchestra to rehearse on the same stage as it performs, and, together with DePreist's leadership, resulted in a new level of concert activity, even greater service in the areas of education, community programs, and 15 recordings.” [ profiles James DePreist (b. 1936), who also has his own website,]

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 In 'L’extase d’Amour' of H. Leslie Adams, violist Eliesha Nelson was the more than capable soloist'

[H. Leslie Adams, Composer; Eliesha Nelson, Violist]

by Daniel Hathaway
“How many local composers can boast of having their own Fan Club? H. Leslie Adams is one of the few, if he isn’t unique in that regard, and his friends and supporters turned out in force for a concert of his new instrumental works at the Main Cleveland Public Library on Saturday afternooon, February 19.

“The 2 pm, one-hour performance was the latest event in CPL’s 'Music at Main' series, which takes place on the third-floor landing of the main building, at once an intimate and spacious setting where the corridors leading to the Fine Arts Department and the Recordings collection meet (and where the elevators regularly chime in). It’s a fun setting because the music carries throughout the marble halls below and above and draws listeners into the audience who had come on other errands.

“On Saturday, though, most of the large crowd were there on purpose to hear four new (and in one case not quite complete) works by one of Cleveland’s probably most-performed composers. Adams, who graduated from Oberlin, was born in Cleveland and has stuck around for most of his 79 years, though his compositions have traveled as far as Iceland and Prague. Bassoonist Michael Dalby, a librarian in the Fine Arts Department, is the mastermind for Music at Main, and after recognizing new library director Felton Thomas, Jr., greeting the crowd and introducing H. Leslie Adams, he joined his wife, pianist Anne Dalby for a performance of Adams’ Poem of Love. The bassoon played a long, lyrical melody over an accompanimental pattern in the piano, then the two instruments traded roles. A more rhythmical middle section found the two players passing motives back and forth, then the attractive work ended with a restatement of the first section.

“The Romance in D-flat for English horn and piano, the composer explained, is part of a project to bring ensemble instruments into the spotlight as soloists. Alice Mantey joined pianist Robert Cassidy for the piece, which was again cast in A-B-A form with lyrical sections separated by a rather jazzy middle section. Two movements of Adams’ Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano (an unusual combination, he explained) were presented by clarinetist Victoria Marra, violinist Laura Simna and Cassidy. Though the first movement resembled the two earlier works in form and content, the second surprised us with a march (described by Adams as “the march of the aggressive toy soldiers”).

“Perhaps the most assured piece of the afternoon, Adams’ L’extase d’Amour for viola and piano, came at the end. Cleveland Orchestra violist Eliesha Nelson was the more than capable soloist, expertly joined at the piano by Dianna White-Gould. Here Adams’ trademark lyrical tune got slightly varied treatment upon repetition, and the mid-section was enlivened by dialogues between the piano and pizzicati from the viola. Some harmonic surprises also pricked up the ear. Adams’ lyrical and accessible music made for an enjoyable hour of listening on a bright Saturday afternoon.” The composer's website is: [H. Leslie Adams (b. 1932) is profiled at, which features a comprehensive Works List by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma of Lawrence University Conservatory]

Comment by email:
Bill, Thanks for your kind compliment and for the posting. hla [H. Leslie Adams]

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sonya Headlam: 'Nordic Lights' features 'seldom-performed compositions by Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish composers.'

[Sonya Headlam]

One World Symphony has interviewed Sonya Headlam for Nordic Lights, in Brooklyn on March 4 and in Manhattan on March 6, at which Sonya will sing The Tryst of Jean Sibelius:

Are any of your family members musicians? If so, what do they do? Any family rituals/routines, talents you'd like to tell us?
I come from a musical family. Although my parents are not musicians they insisted that my sister, brother and I take piano lessons, something we all started at a young age and continued through high school graduation. My siblings and I were also involved in our school choirs and theater. As our skills developed, the presence of music increased in our family life. Weekends were often filled with activities such as music lessons, recitals, and impromptu family gatherings around the piano singing and playing anything from Beatles songs to Schubert. In addition, it was not uncommon to find us dancing together to the latest Soca from Trinidad and Michael Jackson tunes. Fast forward to the present day, and I am not the only one still actively involved in music. My brother performs regularly in the Cincinnati area with a Motown group called P. Ann Everson-Price & The All Star Band.

What has been the highlight of your One World Symphony career to date?
The highlight would have to be my performance of Berlioz's Les Nuits d'été last Season. I heard the piece, a 1980s recording of Barenboim and Kiri Te Kanawa, for the first time in high school and I was enchanted. I later discovered other recordings by Elly Ameling, Jessye Norman, Janet Baker to name a few, and continued to be struck by the range of colors this song cycle touches. When planning my Master's recital at Miami University I decided to put it on the program. To prepare, I spent months going over the text (what I would give to have that kind of time again in my life) during which I gained a deeper appreciation for Berlioz's exquisite sensitivity. The performance of the song cycle on my Master’s recital was gratifying, however, there was still more that I wanted to express through this work that I was not able to touch on at the time. Last year when I heard One World Symphony was auditioning for Les Nuits d'été, I was ecstatic. Not just because the opportunity had arisen, but that it had arisen with One World Symphony. When I found out that I landed the gig, it felt as if I finally knew the date when I would be reunited with a dear old friend. Collaborating with OWS under Maestro Hong is always a pleasure. Maestro Hong does not bring musicians to the public to play music. He brings musicians to the public to make music. Berlioz's Les Nuits d'été demands this kind of approach and for this reason it was a truly wonderful experience to present this piece to our audience.

What made you decide to become a musician?
I can't really say that I decided to become a musician. I was fortunate to have parents that made music a priority in my life although initially I don't think they envisioned it being something I would pursue professionally. It was my father who insisted that I learn to play an instrument and my mother who fully supported me and my siblings spending countless hours driving us from piano lessons to voice lessons, play practice, choir practice and attending every recital and competition. By the time I reached high school, I knew music was a true passion of mine. I was not the most talented pianist of my siblings, that would be my sister, nor was I the most talented singer in my school. However, I was lucky to work with wonderful teachers and fellow students. With them and because of them I experienced the beauty of making music and knew that it was something I wanted to develop. I still feel this way to this day. Being a musician requires great sacrifice and dedication yet I feel it is one of the most rewarding and gratifying experiences in life.

What was the most recent book you've read?
I spend my summer and winter holidays at my family's cabin in Northern Vermont. It is the only time of year that I have the opportunity to read. This past winter holiday I read two Ivan Turgenev novels, First Love and Fathers and Sons. I was motivated to read Turgenev because of the relationship that he had with one of my musical inspirations, the 19th century composer and opera singer, Pauline Viardot-Garcia. I was excited to discover plot themes in Fathers and Sons that I believe parallel the real-life relationship between Turgenev and Viardot-Garcia. Pauline Viardot-Garcia was the subject of my Master's Thesis, and I continue to be interested in her life and her circle of friends, family, and lovers.

When you make some free time, how do you relax?
I love to spend a Saturday morning with a leisurely breakfast at our local Inwood diner by Fort Tryon Park. If the weather is good it could be followed by a walk in the park and browsing at our farmer’s market and local antique store. If it's a frigid winter like this one, then I enjoy an afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or catching up with the latest romantic comedy on Netflix. One of my favorite activities when I have free time is singing and playing keyboards with my husband and friends in our rock band, Feelings.

Which is your favorite destination you have visited and why?
In the spring of 2010 I had the opportunity to travel to Shanghai and Bejing, China to sing with a choir at the Shanghai World Expo and other locations such as a senior center, a children's hospital, and other community locations. Our choir especially enjoyed performing a well-known Chinese folk song, since our audience often sang along. Our performance at the senior center was memorable as we were rewarded with a lesson from the elders in making (and eating) Chinese dumplings. The visit to a children’s hospital and school in Bejing was moving and has led my choir to a new initiative to raise funds for vulnerable and needy children around the world. This was my first trip to China and I thoroughly enjoyed the food, culture, and rich history. The experience of climbing the Great Wall of China was unforgettable. The trip reaffirmed for me that music has the ability to make deep connections between people even if there are obvious barriers such as speaking different languages and coming from different cultures.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Although I am not a native New Yorker, after 6 years of living here I have fallen into the “hustle and bustle” lifestyle that comes with the territory. When it comes to personal travel I focus on relaxation and being with my family. If I can add nice weather and a body of water to that mix, I'm completely content.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?
My parents, who immigrated to this country from Jamaica, always told me that I need to work twice as hard as others to accomplish my goals. Part of the reason they told me this was to instill in me a good work ethic. It was also their way of saying that not all things come easy in life and I am capable of accomplishing my goals if I work hard. This piece of advice has served me well and is something I strive to do in all aspects of my life.

What do you feel is multicultural awareness and how does it affect our work environment and community at large?
Cultural awareness is not something that one achieves. It is a lifetime of effort, commitment, self-reflection, and sharing. Cultural awareness provides us with an opportunity to understand the broad spectrum of humanity. I believe it is possible to achieve this understanding by exposing oneself with an open mind to other cultures and ways of life, which can be done in many ways, through art, music, literature, travel, and something as basic as making an effort to interact with and socialize with the people living around us in our own communities. Through this exposure, we gain a better understanding of ourselves and an opportunity to reflect on our lives. In addition we begin to see how our diverse cultures and lifestyles create an interwoven fabric that brings a beauty and complexity to who we are. As the world continues to become a smaller place it becomes even more important than ever that this fabric is held together by tolerance, respect, and understanding, which in turn will help us to build stronger communities and remove intolerance and inequalities that persist.

If you weren't a musician, what would you be?
An archeologist.

Why would you recommend our public to attend One World Symphony's Nordic Lights concerts on March 4 & 6, 2011?
I highly recommend our public to attend the upcoming Nordic Lights program, which will feature contemporary and seldom-performed compositions by Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish composers. One World Symphony concerts provide a more intimate experience than most performances of classical music with a full orchestra. The venues have wonderful acoustics and due to their size, the audience can see subtle expressions of the musicians and can come closer to the communication that occurs between the conductor and musicians. Maestro Hong is known for taking time to talk with the audience, often highlighting interesting themes or rhythmic patterns in the music before the piece begins. In addition, he often gives historical context to the music, which gives the audience insight on the performance.

Can you please tell us about Sibelius' song The Tryst? What makes it special and what are you looking forward to the most when you're performing it?
Sibelius, although known primarily for his symphonic works, composed around 100 songs and one opera in his lifetime. The Tryst, composed in 1904 is the last song in a set of five from Opus 37. The song is about a young girl’s love and the feeling of devastation upon discovery of her lover's betrayal. What is special about this song is that it has four characters: the narrator, a young girl, her mother and her lover. The poetry lends a unique opportunity to the singer to present more than one character within the same song. Sibelius was able to brilliantly illuminate the unbridled passion and intensity of youthful love along with the complexity of maternal love presented in this Runeberg poem. I look forward to performing this beautiful song together with One World Symphony and Maestro Hong on March 6th.

Comment by email:
Dear Mr. Zick, Thank you for visiting my website and for including the interview I had with One World Symphony on the upcoming Nordic Lights concert on your blog! I truly appreciate it. Best wishes, Sonya Headlam