Tuesday, September 18, 2012

John Malveaux: '150th Anniversary EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION CONCERT Preconcert lecture' 6:30 PM Sept. 22, 2012

John Malveaux of www.MusicUNTOLD.com sends the following text of his preconcert address:

150th Anniversary 
Preconcert lecture

Welcome and thank you for attending preconcert lecture of 150th Anniversary Emancipation Proclamation Concert, POLITICS OF MUSIC: ABRAHAM LINCOLN and composer ROY HARRIS.

I am John Malveaux president of the Long Beach Central Area Association and MusicUNTOLD. This lecture consists of my personal recollections, experiences, and opinions without endorsement or approval from sponsors or participating artists. Sponsors and participating artist do not warrant or make any representations regarding accuracy of my recollections, experiences, and opinions.

It is documented that President Abraham Lincoln was particularly fond of music by Giuseppe Verdi, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Negro Spirituals. The assassination of President Lincoln took place on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, as the Civil War was drawing to a close. Lincoln was the first American president to be assassinated.

American composer Roy Harris was born in a log cabin in Lincoln County, Oklahoma, on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, 1898. Roy Harris grew to feel overshadowed by President Abraham Lincoln. Roy Harris was the first American symphony composer recorded by an American record company (CBS-1933). Beginning in 1938 Harris became one of the first composers to become involved in radio on a regular basis. He hosted a show for CBS called, “Let's Make Music” and remained involved in the medium into the 1950s. Roy Harris’s Symphony No. 3 was written in 1939 and has been described as the “quintessential American symphony”. The symphony has been conducted and recorded by numerous notables including Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.

His Fifth Symphony, premiered in early 1943 and was dedicated to the U.S.'s "great ally, the Union of Soviet Republics," and broadcast to the Soviet Union as well as to American troops around the world. When it appeared that Hitler may win World War 11, a British group collected great works of art to place in a time capsule and drop in the ocean for the benefit of future generation. Roy Harris was the only American composer included in the time capsule. In later years, when a time capsule was made for John F. Kennedy’s years in the White House, Roy Harris’s 3rd and 5th Symphonies were included. In 1946, Roy Harris was commissioned to compose music for sacred Jewish text. ‘Mi khamokha’ is a single track on Milken Archive of Jewish Music, volume 7, Masterworks of Prayer (Art in Worship).

Roy’s dedication of the FIFTH Symphony to the Soviet people became an issue during McCarthyism. When he refused to stop a Pittsburg Symphony performance conducted by William Steinberg, he became a direct target. Conductor William Steinberg was born Hans Wilhelm Steinberg, a German Jew. The treats against Roy and his family reached the height that an escort was sometimes necessary for his children to attend school and several relocations were necessary for family safety. Roy did have support from the American Legion and other influential individuals and organizations. His music was boycotted by mainstream radio and concert hall. Roy Harris fell from a household name to obscurity.

In 1958, the U.S. State Department sent Roy Harris and five fellow composers to the Soviet Union as Cultural Ambassadors on the first cultural exchange with the Soviet Union. He became the first American to conduct in the Soviet Union when he conducted the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra in a performance of his FIFTH symphony. Roy Harris met most of the prominent Soviet composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich.

In early 1979, I offered Roy Harris a commission to write a symphony for me. He accepted the offer and we entered a contract. At a later time, he informed me that the Soviet Union Olympic Committee had previously asked him to compose a symphony for international broadcast during the opening ceremony of the 1980 summer games scheduled for Moscow. Considering he did not know what to write for me and his advanced age, Roy offered the symphony he would compose for the 1980 Summer Olympic Games as the commissioned work for me. I accepted his offer.

Roy Harris compositions of ‘When Johnny Comes Home’ (1935), his Sixth Symphony ‘Gettysburg’ (1944), ‘Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight’ for mezzo-soprano, violin, cello, and piano (1953), and his Tenth Symphony ‘Abraham Lincoln’ (1965) were inspired, as were other works, by Abraham Lincoln. When commissioned to compose a symphony for the 200th birthday of our nation, he again turned to Abraham Lincoln and sacred American documents for inspiration.

Roy Harris 14th Symphony, also known as the “Bicentennial Symphony” premiered in Washington D.C., February 10-12, 1976 with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In my opinion, it is the strongest musical statement on U.S. History, slavery, and race relations ever made by an American composer. The work was written for orchestra with large chorus. The chorus carries the larger part of the work with passages from the Preamble to the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and the Emancipation Proclamation as well as original passages.

The introduction is a musical representation of dawn to daylight. The first movement is a setting of the Preamble of the Constitution. The second movement is an exposition of the bitter disagreement about slavery between the North and the South. The third movement is a statement in music about the ferocity of the Civil War, brother against brother. The fourth movement is a musical setting of Abraham Lincoln’s “Freedom Proclamation”. The fifth movement is a musical setting of new attitudes of free black people. The coda is a setting of portions of the Preamble of the Constitution proclaiming freedom “for all of us”.

Critics mauled the premiere performance and most of the audience misinterpreted the work as an indictment instead of a celebration. Cellist Rostropovich performed separately on the same program. Upon my inquiry in subsequent years, the National Symphony Orchestra insisted no archival recording was made of the performance. The work was scheduled to be performed the following week by the Dallas Symphony. The story was told by the Dallas Symphony that the score was “LOST IN FLIGHT” and therefore the Third substituted for the “Bicentennial Symphony”.

Roy Harris died October 1, 1979 with the unfinished OLYMPIC SYMPHONY at his bedside. He was the honorary composer laureate of the State of California. The United States Olympic Committee later contracted with me to organize a Roy Harris tribute concert featuring Members of the New York Philharmonic at Avery Hall as a USOC fundraiser and a goodwill gesture to the Soviet Olympic Committee. While developing the concert and while the 1980 Winter Games were in process at Lake Placid, I received a call from the USOC and a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel telling me the contract for the Roy Harris tribute and USOC fundraiser could not be completed because President Carter would announce a boycott of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow the next day due to a Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan.

Juneteenth is the oldest celebration in the nation commemorating the ending of slavery. In 2009, the Long Beach Central Area Association and City of Long Beach Park Recreation & Marine co-presented a FREE performance of the “Bicentennial Symphony” as part of their annual Juneteenth Celebration at MLK Jr. Park. The Long Beach Central Area Association collected a pick up MusicUNTOLD Orchestra and Chorale to perform the west coast premiere of the ‘Bicentennial Symphony’. The work had not been performed in 33 years. The performance was endorsed by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.

Without question, Roy Harris was far beyond his most productive years in 1976. The ‘Bicentennial Symphony’ is not comparable to a Beethoven work with striking motifs suitable for daily enjoyment. The ‘Bicentennial Symphony’ was composed as an ‘occasion piece’. It is an accurate interpretation of American history. The ‘Bicentennial Symphony’ was not an indictment of America history. It is a ‘one of a kind’ American celebration in music of our nation defeating darkness and moving toward the light of humanity. In CONFEDERATE RECKONING, Dr. Stephanie McCurry states “The short-lived Confederate States of American was a signal event in the history of the Western world. What secessionists set out to build was something entirely new in the history of nation: a modern proslavery and antidemocratic state, dedicated to the proposition that all men were not created equal.” Many are uncomfortable with this view and the subject of United States slavery is almost entirely kept out of concert halls.

Tonight’s concert month/date exactly match President Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation drafted on September 22, 1862. The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War started April 12, 2011 and will continue until April 9, 2015. I believe the refusal of any major orchestra to revisit Roy Harris “Bicentennial Symphony” illustrates the POLITICS OF MUSIC. Several years ago, a leading PBS ‘GREAT PERFORMANCES’ producer offered to cover the work if I could find a leading United States orchestra to perform the piece. I failed to find a leading United States orchestra willing to perform the piece. Also, of surprise to me, the oldest African American community orchestra in the nation (60 years) declined an offer to perform the symphony. However, I hold out hope. Throughout history, one can find other examples of a major composer’s work being misunderstood in one period and embraced in another period.

Please visit www.musciuntold.com and view the performance of the ‘Bicentennial Symphony’ during the 2009 Long Beach Juneteenth Celebration. Although an amateur performance, the MusicUNTOLD Orchestra and Chorale provide the only admitted recording that separates an American treasure from non-existence. You may contact John Malveaux for additional information about Roy Harris ‘Bicentennial Symphony’ at Jmalveaux@gmail.com.

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