Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Los Angeles Times: 'Nathaniel Ayers plays the Foshay Learning Center'

[Nathaniel Ayers]

On May 27, 2009 AfriClassical posted: “Afro-American Chamber Orchestra & Janise White Present 'Black Symphonists Concert.” Steve Lopez of The Los Angeles Times writes of a school concert at which Janise White invited Nathaniel Ayers to join in performing works of Composers of African Descent:

Los Angeles Times
By Steve Lopez
June 15, 2011
“I picked him up at 10:30 Monday morning. He was waiting on the sidewalk outside his apartment with a cello, a violin, a guitar, a trumpet, a walking stick and a backpack full of music.
'Good morning, Mr. Ayers.'
'Good morning, Mr. Lopez.'
When Nathaniel Ayers and I go places together, I'm the driver. But he's the talent, as they say, so in a sense, I'm just along for the ride. Such was the case as we headed off to the Foshay Learning Center, a K-12 school near Western Avenue and Exposition Boulevard, where Mr. Ayers was slated to perform.

“A woman named Janise White, whom I'd never met, directs the Afro-American Chamber Music Society Orchestra. She had heard about Mr. Ayers through some colleagues and called me to say she thought it might be nice to play with him at the school concert. I'm like a stage parent in situations like this, thrilled at the opportunity for Mr. Ayers but worried that he'll feel too much pressure, or not find the setting or the vibe to his liking.

“I explained to White that Mr. Ayers is immensely talented but somewhat mercurial, as he has been since leaving the Juilliard School 40 years ago after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Then there's the fact that he insists on playing instruments other than the one on which he was trained: the upright bass. His musical adventures are often uncharted, I warned. Just bring him along, White said calmly, and they'd work it out.

“The dilapidated Foshay auditorium was shut down for remodeling, so we were led to the music room for a rehearsal. White had not brought her entire orchestra along. Just violinists Phil Johnson and Shigeru Logan and cellist Kevan Torfeh. It occurred to me, as a trained professional observer, that Johnson and Torfeh did not appear to be black, so I wondered how they had landed in the Afro-American Chamber Music Society Orchestra. White isn't particular about the musicians, they said. Her mission, as a music teacher and historian, is to present and preserve compositions by black artists for a broad audience.

“The rehearsal went smashingly well. Mr. Ayers, primarily self-taught on cello, was able to keep up nicely by sight-reading pieces he wasn't familiar with: Sinfonia No. 2 by Chevalier de St. Georges and 'Danse Negre' by Samuel Coleridge Taylor. I had recommended to White that they try 'The Swan' by Camille Saint-Saens, a piece very familiar to Mr. Ayers, and the quintet nailed it. White was smiling and I was breathing easier, slipping into reverie on yet another musical journey with Mr. Ayers.” [Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) and Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) are profiled at]

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