Saturday, March 24, 2018

Sergio Mims: San Francisco Chronicle: How two singers adapt the classical with the African American experience

Lawrence Brownlee
(Shervin Lainez)

Julia Bullock
(Christian Steiner)

Sergio A. Mims writes:

San Francisco Chronicle profile on Lawrence Brownlee and Julia Bullock.

Andrew Gilbert

March 19, 2018

“It’s all about being seen,” says Julia Bullock, the luminous soprano who returns to Cal Performances Sunday, March 25, at Hertz Hall with pianist John Arida, exploring material that ranges from Schubert, Barber and Fauré to Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Alberta Hunter.

The program might seem confoundingly disparate, but as a mixed-race woman navigating a creative field usually “run, produced, written and presented by white people,” Bullock says she wants to stretch herself to encompass “all of these people wanting to have their voices heard. I guess that’s a through line connecting these songs.”

It’s a thematic line running through her recent performances in the Bay Area, too, including her San Francisco Opera debut as the de facto narrator Dame Shirley in the world premiere of John Adams and Peter Sellars’ “Girls of the Golden West,” which foregrounds the experiences of people usually overlooked in tales of the West. She made her most vivid impression at Cal Performances 2016 Ojai at Berkeley with “Josephine Baker: A Portrait,” portraying the pioneering African American entertainer in a jazz suite by poet Claudia Rankine and composer Tyshawn Sorey.

Not coincidentally, Sorey, a recently minted MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, figures prominently in tenor Lawrence Brownlee’s S.F. Performances recital debut with pianist Myra Huang at Herbst Theatre on Saturday, March 31.

In much the same way that Bullock combines traditional chamber music material with music that speaks directly to the African American experience, Brownlee’s recital pairs the soaring Romanticism of Schumann’s “Dichterliebe” cycle with the West Coast premiere of “Cycles of My Being” by Sorey and poet Terrance Hayes.

Brownlee decided to work with Sorey after hearing Bullock sing the Baker suite and checking out his work as an adventurous jazz composer. Confronted by a steady stream of headlines and video of black men being mistreated, he knew he wanted to bring the defiant energy of the Black Lives Matter movement into the concert hall, and with its sudden dynamic shifts and startling harmonic leaps “Being” can be confrontational. But the six-part, 40-minute work is more an invitation than a polemic, hinging on Hayes’ question, “Do you love the air in me as I love the air in you?”

1 comment:

John Malveaux said...

Julia Bullock is a truly dynamic singer and bubbling curator spotlighting genius wowmen such as Alberta Hunter, Nina Simone, Josephine Baker, and Lovie Austin. If you have not heard Julia

John Malveaux