Sunday, April 15, 2012

Thomas Wilkins Conducts National Symphony Orchestra at Kennedy Center in Music of Hailstork, Coleridge-Taylor, Still & Ellington

[Thomas Wilkins]

It takes a sly sense of humor to title a concert “Affirmations: A Musical Journey of Hope and Aspiration” — and then open it with Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to the sardonic, optimism-mocking “Candide.” But the performance Friday night at the Kennedy Center by the National Symphony Orchestra (with the superb a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock) quickly reverted to warm sincerity, showcasing music by composers — mostly African Americans — chosen to be “a confirmation of truth; a giant ‘Yes,’ if you will,” said guest conductor Thomas Wilkins.

Depending on your level of cynicism, that may sound like either a refreshing breath of air or a warning bell for smiley-faced banality. But Wilkins has a sure, imaginative touch at the podium and turned in sharp-edged readings of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s engaging “Danse Negre” and the radiantly beautiful “Adagio” movement from Aldolphus Hailstork’s Symphony No.1.

Duke Ellington’s “King of the Magi” came off with fiery brilliance, while the fourth movement of William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1, titled “Aspiration,” was more meditative, embodying a sense of quiet, almost otherworldly calm.

[Adolphus C. Hailstork (b. 1941), Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), Duke Ellington (1899-1974) and William Grant Still (1895-1978) are profiled at, which features comprehensive Works Lists for Still  and Coleridge-Taylor by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma,]

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