Monday, May 23, 2011

Buffalo News: 'Let’s give Still his due. It’s overdue.'

[Sahdji (Buffalo News)]

In her concert review of “A Tribute to William Grant Still,” Mary Kunz Goldman writes that the event which Tim Kennedy organized at the University of Buffalo's Center for the Arts “generated a unique excitement.” We are in awe at the numerous accomplishments of the tribute. Kennedy guided an ensemble of talented local musicians in a convincing rendition of the Afro-American Symphony. The neglected ballet Sahdji and the other works of the tribute also remind us that William Grant Still should indeed be given “his due.”
By Mary Kunz Goldman
Published: May 23, 2011
“Sunday’s tribute to the great American composer William Grant Still, organized by Buffalo musician Tim Kennedy and held at UB’s Center for the Arts, generated a unique excitement. A performance of Still’s Symphony No. 1, 'Afro-American,' was an event all on its own. There was also an alluring selection of songs and other shorter pieces, all seldom heard.

“Plus, there was the spectacle of 'Sahdji,' a ballet that premiered in 1930 and has hardly ever been seen since. The piece was performed by a live orchestra and danced by FuturPointe, a troupe from Rochester. The vibrant photo in Saturday’s paper — by Carrie Mateosian, whom FuturPointe was adamant about crediting—gave us an idea of what to expect: painted dancers, passion, African drumbeats, sweat. It was an ambitious program. And it lived up to expectations.

“The songs had a heartfelt simplicity. Kennedy, at the piano, projected warmth, and the singers drew the audience in. 'Holy Spirit Don’t You Leave Me' had an irresistible lightness and bounce. In 'Weeping Angel,' tenor George Davis showed off his polished, controlled voice. 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' showed Still’s bright style. He knew how to orchestrate so as to let in the light. Two short pieces were lovely cameos. Soloist Inge Yanoski brought a touch of 19th century virtuosity to 'Gamin.' It had an arresting ending. In 'Romance,' saxophonist Dave Schiavone shaped his phrases beautifully and sensuously.

“Still’s 'Afro-American' Symphony followed a brief intermission. Kennedy conducted a 36-piece orchestra in a strong performance of this lyrical, engaging music. Why don’t we hear this piece more? It is a wonderful musical time machine — like Dvorak’s 'New World' Symphony, it brings the past to life. It has so much to love. The blues that begins the first movement (I kept thinking 'The St. Louis Blues'). The quote from 'I Got Rhythm.' (Gershwin, it was whispered, stole it from Still.) The slow movement is enchanting. Kennedy and his musicians lingered over it, enjoying every turn. The last movement was stirring. The orchestra had a good, strong brass section.”

“Everyone was good, really. After a tentative start the music gathered momentum and kept it. Visuals accompanied the orchestra, which played from the pit.” “Visuals also accompanied “Sahdji,” which ended the program. Here we were dealing with an embarrassment of riches. There was too much to watch. FuturPointe is a skilled group with tremendous energy and passion.” “Let’s give Still his due. It’s overdue.” [William Grant Still (1895-1978) is profiled at, where a complete Works Lists by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma is featured.]

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