Thursday, May 16, 2019

Chicago Tribune: “Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration” May 24, Chicago

Jason Moran and Alicia Hall Moran
(Fadi Kheir)

May 15, 2019

By Howard Reich

In our popular mythology, the Great Migration of African-Americans from the rural South to the industrial North carries a romantic glow.

Didn’t this massive movement of humanity, after all, nurture jazz, blues and gospel music in several cities, none more than Chicago?

But to pianist and MacArthur Fellow Jason Moran and mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran, his wife, other layers of the narrative have been forgotten, obscured or simply not acknowledged in the first place.

Which is why they’ve created “Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration,” which has its Chicago premiere May 24 in Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center.

“We wanted our ‘Two Wings’ to show the calculated flight, the degree of calculation for the terror that was inflicted on black people, the great energy that their fleeing created, the holes that their departures left in the South,” says Alicia Hall Moran.

And they wanted to show that as African-American populations built new lives up North, they also found “new conflict in Chicago, new conflicts in New York,” adds the singer.

To tell these stories, the Morans have created a program of classics and originals to be performed by them and colleagues, including the Imani Winds (which will play Jason Moran’s four-movement chamber work “Cane”), Chicago’s Pastor Smokie Norful and others.

But the music tells only part of the story. In addition, the Morans have featured a different narrator in each city where “Two Wings” has taken flight, with author Isabel Wilkerson, for instance, having drawn on her book “The Warmth of Other Suns” to tell the tale at New York’s Carnegie Hall (which commissioned “Two Wings”).

In Chicago, another distinguished author, Margo Jefferson, will provide a different text.

“The last thing Jason and I wanted to do was to come to any storied institution, such as Chicago Symphony (Center) … and not be armed with great works and the eye of journalism, criticism and lyricism,” says Alicia Hall Moran.

As for music, “Jason and I decided we really wanted to veer away from the idea of only celebrating the hit records of every era,” she adds. “Things that actually have great value – but now we’re in 2019. Anything that we thought we’d seen before, we’re trying to find an angle on it, so that we can teach ourselves something new.”

Thus the program takes on a somewhat different form in each venue, to better reflect that city’s Great Migration narrative, and spans a wide stylistic reach. In Chicago, listeners will hear everything from Moran’s aforementioned chamber work “Cane” and Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr.’s “God Bless the Child” to Pastor Norful’s “Dear God” and the spiritual “Two Wings,” which gives the evening its title.

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