Friday, September 6, 2019 "Priceless: The Music of Florence Price," Duke Univ. Sept. 21

Florence B. Price (1887-1953)
(Photo by Special to The Chronicle | The Chronicle)

The music department will highlight the music of this pioneering African American composer in two concerts this fall. On Sept. 21, they will showcase “Priceless: The Music of Florence Price,” organized by David Heid, director of the Duke Opera Theater and instructor of music, and is co-sponsored by Trinity College of Arts and Sciences through Dean Ashby and the gender, sexuality, and feminist studies program.

Florence Price was born in 1887 in Little Rock, Ark., during a time of severe racial tension. She studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, one of the only music schools that accepted black students at the time. Although she excelled as a pianist and organist, Price was not taken very seriously in the field — she was a black woman when there were very few women in classical music and almost no African Americans. She was also forced to leave an abusive marriage during a time when women were not expected to stand up for themselves. As the conditions under Jim Crow became more violent, Price fled north to Chicago, looking for a new start.

In 1932, Price submitted her works to the Rodman Wanamaker Contest in Musical Composition, a major competition for African American composers at the time. To everyone’s surprise, she won first prize for her Symphony in E minor, and third for her Piano Sonata. When the Chicago Symphony performed her winning symphony in 1933, she became the first black woman to have a composition performed by a major American orchestra. Yet, despite this promising start, the press considered her win a fluke because she was a woman, and her career failed to take off. After she passed away in 1953, the few works she had created languished in obscurity.

In 2009, a young couple bought a house on a lake in Illinois that was in terrible disrepair. When they cleaned out the attic, they found a trunk of papers that was miraculously undamaged. They realized that they had bought Price’s summer home and ran across hundreds of her old manuscripts and letters.

With this recent rediscovery of her music, there has been an incredible revival of interest in her compositions in the past decade. However, her works are still rarely performed. David Heid is attempting to change that.

“Florence Price is someone really important and incredibly impactful in our world who many students don’t know,” Heid said. “I have been a big fan of hers for a while — I’ve taught her Piano Sonata and played a lot of her vocal works — so now that we have access to more of her compositions, it’s been an exciting time for Florence Price.”

The program includes a selection of Price’s vocal works performed by Marlissa Hudson, Trinity ‘99, a soprano and Duke alum, and the Duke Chorale and Chamber Choir. Hudson is an accomplished concert soloist who has performed with many prominent American symphonies. She received her formal training at Duke University and the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.

No comments: