Friday, April 5, 2019

New York Times: A Composer’s Final Work Contains ‘Visions’ of an American Master

The composer George Walker died last summer at 96. He was a close friend of the artist Frank Schramm, who documented his final years in photographs. (Credit: Frank Schramm)

The New York Times

By Thomas May
SEATTLE — Last fall, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery began to display, among its recent acquisitions, a photograph of the composer George Walker. It shows him close up, his right index finger and thumb bearing down on a pencil with the precision of a surgeon, at work on the manuscript score of his Sinfonia No. 5.

The image of Dr. Walker, who died last summer at the age of 96, was captured by the photographer and filmmaker Frank Schramm, a close friend. They had known each other since Mr. Schramm heard a broadcast of Dr. Walker’s Sinfonia No. 3 in 2004 and, he said, “immediately gravitated to his work.”

Living within a couple of miles of Dr. Walker in New Jersey, Mr. Schramm would pay regular visits to his house in Montclair — helping out with errands and at the same time using his camera to document his life and work, right up to the end.

“George was 81 when I met him, so there was already a sense of time running out,” Mr. Schramm said. “But he was so focused. We would listen to and discuss music. It became like an unsolicited master class for me.”

Just two months before his death, Dr. Walker had been keenly anticipating the opportunity to experience Sinfonia No. 5, “Visions,” in a concert hall, Mr. Schramm recalled. He was looking forward to the first live performance, which will be given by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra on April 11. (A studio recording, made in 2017, is available on Albany Records.)

The piece, which was completed in 2016, in part conveys Mr. Walker’s response to the 2015 shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. “He looked back and saw the other work he had done and thought this could be the last one,” said Gregory Walker, the older of Dr. Walker’s two sons. “And he felt an urgency about getting it out there.”

“Visions” crowns a long career in which Dr. Walker produced more than 90 compositions, including intimate pieces for solo piano (his primary instrument), and large-scale orchestral and choral works. It was the last score he completed; at the time of his death, he had embarked on a piece commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

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