Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Florida Times-Union: Adolphus Hailstork's 'The Gift of the Magi' is 'choral ballet,' Tells O. Henry Short Story Dec. 4, 3 PM

[Adolphus C. Hailstork]

Adolphus C. Hailstork (b. 1941) is featured at and is one of the most successful African American composers writing today. His composition The Gift of the Magi enables an unconventional ensemble to retell the heart-warming Christmas story by the legendary writer of short stories, O. Henry:

Florida Times-Union
“Sun, Dec 4, 2011 at 3 p.m.
Choral Ballet for Orchestra
Michael Butterman, conductor
Dancers from Jacksonville University
Fleming Island High School Women's Chorale Capture the holiday spirit with O. Henry's beloved short story, as a 'choral ballet' with dancers, orchestra and youth chorus.”

The Gift of the Magi was premiered in 2009 with 22 members of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra led by JoAnn Falletta, conductor. Teresa Annas wrote about the composition's creation and premiere in The Virginian-Pilot:

By Teresa Annas
© December 11, 2009
“Perhaps a decade ago, a friend gave Carol Thomas Downing a book, O. Henry's 'The Gift of the Magi.' The story of a poor young couple sacrificing to buy each other a Christmas present moved her. Every year she rereads it. 'I was sitting there one Christmas looking through this book, and suddenly the whole vision descended into my brain," said Downing, founder and artistic director of the Virginia Children's Chorus. It was one of those moments where I could just see the story expressed through dance and through a children's choir singing with chamber orchestra.'"

“The 24-minute piece was composed by Adolphus Hailstork of Virginia Beach, who has top national credits and whose work she loves. Downing's group commissioned Hailstork, and at the composer's suggestion she wrote the lyrics.”
“JoAnn Falletta, Virginia Symphony's music director...emphasized the importance of presenting new music by Hailstork. 'Sometimes we take Adolphus for granted. He's a neighbor. But this is a very big deal for us. He's the real deal. He's a very famous and extraordinarily gifted composer." Falletta stressed that it's been an effective collaboration, resulting in an unusual form. 'The story is acted out, partly through dance and partly through singing. No one tells the story from beginning to end, and yet the story is very clear.'

“The composition includes a suite of four songs. As he wrote, Hailstork referred to a storyboard provided by Rosenlieb and Downing. To get the sound he wanted, Hailstork blended romantic instruments, such as harp and strings, with 'antique' ones, including double reeds and flutes. 'One of my favorite moments is the embrace,' Hailstork said. That's when Jim first sees that Della has cut off her gorgeous long hair, having sold it to buy a watch fob for him. Meanwhile, he has sold his watch to buy jeweled hair combs for her. 'He pauses, walks around her, “What's going on here?” She's kinda scared about his reaction. Then he relaxes and embraces her. I love that.'"

“Hailstork is an unpretentious interviewee. Regarding his own music, he said, 'You gotta like pretty tunes. If you like pretty tunes, you'll like it.' He said writing music to lyrics comes easily to him. 'As soon as I read the words, I hear the melody. That is just a habit. I won't say a gift. I'll just say a habit.'"

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