Thursday, October 31, 2019

Festival Celebrates Trailblazing Composer Florence Price Aug. 20-23, Univ. of Maryland

Florence B. Price (1887-1953)

Performers, scholars and advocates will gather at the University of Maryland for the first International Florence Price Festival in August 2020.
Oct. 31, 2019                                                                                                    
The International Florence Price Festival is partnering with the University of Maryland School of Music (SOM) to bring together performers, scholars and advocates from around the world to celebrate the life and legacy of the late African American composer Florence Price.
The inaugural Price Fest will be held August 20-23, 2020, at the University of Maryland and in the Washington, D.C. region. The festival will feature lectures and panels on the significance of Price and her contemporaries, as well as recitals of her music.
It is the first annual classical music festival in the United States named after a woman of color. 
“Classical music festivals named after a composer are almost always named after European men like Bach, Mozart and Beethoven,” said festival president and tenor Marquese Carter. “It is significant to be able to offer a festival named after an American woman of color.”
Born in Arkansas in 1887, Price was the first African American woman composer to have a composition performed by a major American orchestra when the Chicago Symphony performed her Symphony No. 1 in 1933 at the Chicago World’s Fair.
While scholarship and performances surrounding her work continued after her death in 1953, an expansion of popular interest began in 2009, when a large number of her manuscripts previously believed to be lost were discovered in a cabin in St. Anne, Illinois. Interest has continued to accelerate in recent years due to the release of published editions and premiere recordings of her fourth symphony and two violin concertos.
The International Florence Price Festival has assembled a number of leading Price performers, scholars and advocates on its board of directors and advisory committee, including Marquese Carter, Douglas Shadle, A. Kori Hill, Patrick Dailey, Er-Gene Kahng, John Jeter, Samantha Ege and Jordan Randall Smith. The forthcoming festival line-up will include a diverse range of performers and composers.

Chelsea Opera presents Great Opera inspires Great Singers on 11/21 in NYC

Helena Brown, soprano

Andrew Darling, countertenor

Kimberly Lloyd, soprano

Kevin Johnson, baritone

Chelsea Opera & John Russell Productions present Great Opera inspires Great Singers: Selections from Donizetti, Händel, Mozart, Scarlatti, Strauss and Wagner on 11/21 in NYC

Thursday, Nov 21st, 2019 at 7:30 PM
Christ and St. Stephen’s Church
120 West 69th Street, between Broadway and Columbus
General Admission: $20 adv/$25 door
Seniors/students/children: $10 adv/$15 door.

NEW YORK, October 25 – Chelsea Opera proudly presents the second performance of their 16th Season by paying tribute to some of opera’s classics with this special night of arias, duets, and trios sung by luminary practitioners of the vocal art. The program features selections from perennial opera favorites and lesser-known works by some of the greatest composers of the Western tradition. This evening of music occasions the addition of a new member of Chelsea Opera's creative team - Artistic and Production Associate, John M. Russell. Chelsea Opera’s President and Co-Founder, Leonarda Priore and Mr. Russell have hand chosen both the artists and the repertoire for the evening as a tangible demonstration to the audience that great opera inspires great singers. The program will feature selections from Händel's Baroque masterpiece Giulio Cesare and an aria from the Neapolitan composer Alessandro Scarlatti's Il Mitridate Eupatore, another opera from the period. Passages from Gaetano Donizetti's Anna Bolena, a luminous example of the bel canto style, will follow. Arias from Mozart's much-loved and timeless Don Giovanni will bring the evening to a dramatic crescendo. Closing out the concert will be excerpts from two meisterwerke of German romanticism, Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier and Wagner's Die Walküre. There will be one performance on Thursday, November 21st at 7:30pm at Christ and St. Stephen’s Church (120 West 69th Street, between Broadway and Columbus) NYC. Tickets: General admission: $20 in advance/$25 at the door, Seniors/students/ children general admission: $10 in advance/$15 at the door. Visit events.html for more information or call 212-260-1796.

John Russell Productions has produced operas, concerts and master classes with internationally known musicians, and dramatic readings with famous actors throughout New York City.

Born in Washington, DC and raised in the West/Midwest, John M. Russell received his Bachelor of Music in Voice from New England Conservatory in Boston and his Master of Music in Opera Performance from SUNY-Binghamton, NY. He also went on to study opera performance at Boston Conservatory. From there he proceeded to join Tri Cities Opera in Binghamton, NY in the new cooperative program with SUNY which included singing leading roles and teaching as a Graduate Assistant in Voice and Choral Activities. He also founded a college-wide community Chorus and a Men's Chorus under the oversight of the SUNY Music Department.

While teaching singing, John was invited to found and direct the Opera Department of Brooklyn Conservatory, which greatly expanded the school's influence as an educator of young, professionally motivated singers. Part of this program consisted of presenting full opera performances with orchestra, Master Classes with famous veterans of the art, e.g.: Eleanor Steber, Ataraah Hazan, Chester Ludgin, Enrico DiGiuseppe, RoseMarie Freni, and many others. The program was a huge success and the learning experience was felt on both sides of the proscenium.

From 1992 to 2014, John was an honored member of the regular chorus with the Metropolitan Opera Association. This was a great highpoint of his performing career. In this position, he was called upon to sing solos on the MET stage nearly 70 times. He also was included in performance of MET Premieres, Video Broadcasts and Recordings, and many Texaco Opera Radio broadcasts.

Chelsea Opera is a professional company presenting fully staged operas with chamber orchestra. The company provides for professional singers to advance their careers while making opera affordable and accessible to a broad spectrum of the community. The fine acoustics of the venue provide an intimacy and proximity allowing the audience to feel involved and a part of the opera’s story. Of Chelsea Opera’s sustainability, Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times noted: “With American opera companies large and small struggling financially and a few going under, [Chelsea Opera is] a patch of encouraging news…” Following its production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land, writer Jon Sobel declared: Chelsea Opera “certainly ranks as one of the country’s preeminent ‘small’ opera companies.”

Formed in 2004 by singers, Leonarda Priore and Lynne Hayden-Findlay, Chelsea Opera was launched with an all-volunteer production of Suor Angelica. Initially, Ms. Priore and Ms. Hayden-Findlay intended to produce only this one opera. However, artist and audience response was so compelling they agreed to incorporate and obtained their IRS non-profit designation in a record eight days. They have produced extensive standard and contemporary operas, garnering critical acclaim at each outing. Despite its size, Chelsea Opera is the recipient of two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts – Artworks program, most recently for its production of Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied.

Chelsea Opera has received funding from The Baruch Foundation, The Alice M. Ditson, The Barbara Bell Cumming Foundation, The Tow Foundation, The Amphion Foundation, the H.O. Peet Foundation, the NYU Community Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). 
For further information, visit or write to:

Wednesday, October 30, 2019 Castle of Our Skins at Gardner

Florence B. Price (1887-1953)

October 27, 2019

By David Patterson

In yet another lane change for the Gardner Museum Sunday afternoon series, Boston-based Castle of Our Skins provisioned a string quartet, two dancers and ten cellos to carry out “Secret Desire to Black. Putting forth four black American composers, the concert proved refreshing and rewarding, albeit a little longwinded.

The opening to both halves of “Secret Desire” showed programming smartness, first with Fuging Tune: Resolute, and second with Calvary Ostinato by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004). Both are from his 1973 Lamentations: Black Folk Song Suite for solo cello. They are, in the composer’s words, “the reflection and statement of a peoples crying out.” Guest artist, cellist Seth Parker Woods, roared and growled out low string blues subjects to attractive earthy effect despite some loss of musical clarity. Then, he came back for a pizzicato piece with a four-note pattern repeating over and again with newer and newer material plucked in. That was the most fun to hear. Woods lightened the room with his own fine-finish applied across the bowless popping surfaces. Little secret how these short works were penned given a certain amount of indigenous splurge and always recognized by Woods in somewhat purer temperament.

Unearthed not long ago, String Quartet in A Minor of Florence Price (1887-1953) finally achieved its Boston premiere. For years, the music had been lying in the recesses of an Arkansas library. Recall that the Price’s G Major Quartet, composed in 1929, saw its revival but only a few years ago. What of the four-movement opus she wrote in the fall of 1935, taking but five weeks to compete? Overly long, its 32 minutes lit up and dimmed, with the best coming in the outer sections of the Andante Cantabile and just about all throughout Juba, the dancing third movement. As in other Price works, the folkish, what is first nature, or American, alternates with the academic, what is learned, or European. The harmonic language often tells the difference, primal pentatonic leanings versus late 19th-century chromatic tendencies. Violinists Gabriela Diaz and Mina Lavcheva joined with violist Ashleigh Gordon, and Seth Parker Woods casting the work as mix with pastoral and conservatory flares, ragtime and sonata form. Juba danced truly speaking Price’s eloquent native tongue so steeped in old-time Southern expression.        

NOBLE Statement on the Passing of Congressman John Conyers

October 28, 2019                                                 

National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) 
Remembers Congressman John Conyers
[Alexandria, VA] Today, Cerelyn J. Davis, President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), released the following statement concerning the passing of U.S. Representative John James Conyers Jr.

"The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) mourns the passing of our friend, former U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-MI). He was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and an early and ardent supporter of the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Most importantly, Conyers, the longest serving African American member of Congress in U.S. history, was a champion for civil and human rights. A steadfast supporter and partner to NOBLE, he received NOBLE's Civil Rights Outstanding Leadership Justice by Action Award in 2016. His service remains a guiding beacon for us. Our thoughts are with his family."

About the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives 
Since 1976, The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) has served as the conscience of law enforcement by being committed to justice by action. NOBLE represents over 3,000 members internationally, who are primarily African-American chief executive officers of law enforcement agencies at federal, state, county and municipal levels, other law enforcement administrators, and criminal justice practitioners. For more information, visit

Music Institute & Dance Chicago: “Duke It Out Nutcracker” Dec. 7, Nichols Hall



Classical music, jazz, and dance combine when the Music Institute of Chicago collaborates with Dance Chicago to present a family concert, “Duke It Out Nutcracker,” Saturday, December 7 at 2 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston.
This Nutcracker performance, curated by Dance Chicago, pairs the classical (Tchaikovsky) and jazz (Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn) versions of the holiday favorite, performed by professional brass and woodwind quintets. In tribute to Dance Chicago’s 25th anniversary, the Music Institute is featuring new material this year, including “Chocolate (Spanish Dance).” The performance is a family-friendly 60 minutes.
The Music Institute's 2019–20 season continues with “From the Heart,” a Valentine’s Day-themed concert performed by Music Institute faculty February 15; “Piano Giants” featuring the Marcus Roberts Trio March 14; a tribute to Art Blakey March 28; and the Formosa Quartet April 4.
“Duke It Out Nutcracker” takes place Saturday, December 7 at 2 p.m.
at Nichols Concert Hall,
1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston.
Tickets are $10 general admission,

available at or by calling 847.448.8326.
All programming is subject to change.

Nichols Concert Hall
Noted architect Solon S. Beman designed the architecturally and acoustically magnificent First Church of Christ, Scientist, located at 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, in 1912. In 2003, the building was sensitively restored to become Nichols Concert Hall, a state-of-the-art, 550-seat performance space and music education destination, easily accessible to numerous restaurants, on-street and metered parking, and the Davis Street CTA and Metra stations. The converted building, featuring a fully restored, 1914 E. M. Skinner pipe organ, received the Richard H. Driehaus Award for best adaptive use by the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois.  Each year Nichols Concert Hall reaches approximately 15,000 people and hosts a world-class chamber music series, workshops and master classes, student recitals, and special events. 
Music Institute of Chicago
The Music Institute of Chicago is dedicated to transforming lives through music education. Founded in 1931, the Music Institute has grown to become one of the largest and most respected community music schools in the nation. Offering musical excellence built on the strength of its distinguished faculty, commitment to quality, and breadth of programs and services, the Music Institute is a member of the National Guild for Community Arts Education and accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Pre-collegiate Arts Schools (ACCPAS). Each year, the Music Institute’s teachers reach thousands of students of all ages and levels of experience. Music Institute locations include Chicago, Evanston, Winnetka, Lincolnshire, Lake Forest, and Downers Grove. In addition, the Music Institute is proud of its longstanding partnership with the Chicago Public Schools through its Arts Link program. The Music Institute offers lessons and classes, and concerts through its Community Music School, Academy, and Nichols Concert Hall. For more information, visit

John Malveaux: Charles Dickerson, ICYOLA & Annelle Gregory perform Nov. 3 in L.A.

John Malveaux of 

Inner City Youth Orchestra under the baton of Charles Dickerson will feature violinist Annelle Kazumi Gregory during FREE Beethoven program 4:00 PM, Sunday Nov. 3, 2019 at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Los Angeles.                         

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

NOBLE Statement in Support of Chicago PD Superintendent Eddie Johnson

October 28, 2019                                                 

National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) Statement in Support of Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson

[Alexandria, VA] Today, Cerelyn J. Davis, President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), released the following statement supporting Superintendent Eddie Johnson of the Chicago Police Department and his work in law enforcement:

"Since his appointment in 2016, Superintendent Johnson has reinforced his role as a leader in law enforcement by fighting tirelessly to reduce crime in his hometown of Chicago and place the needs of the people and communities he serves first. Like Mayor Lori Lightfoot, we have a great amount of confidence in Superintendent Johnson's work and decision-making, and recognize the value he has brought to our Chicago Metropolitan Chapter after more than three decades in law enforcement." 

"As an organization that is deeply committed to improving police-community relations, we stand by Superintendent Johnson's statement that as law enforcement officers, our job is to be the voice for the voiceless and ambassadors to the communities that we serve."
About the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives 
Since 1976, The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) has served as the conscience of law enforcement by being committed to justice by action. NOBLE represents over 3,000 members internationally, who are primarily African-American chief executive officers of law enforcement agencies at federal, state, county and municipal levels, other law enforcement administrators, and criminal justice practitioners. For more information, visit

African American Composer Initiative News

African American Composer Initiative

Our 11th Annual AACI Concerts are coming up January 25 and 26. Tickets will be on sale by mid-November.

"Hold Fast to Dreams" is the title of AACI's 2020 concerts. These words by poet Langston Hughes set the tone for the music on this year's program: music uplifting and sustaining to the spirit. The AACI roster of musicians, along with beloved guest jazz artists Valerie Capers and John Robinson return to the performing arts center of Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto to present spirituals, songs, and instrumentals by Charles Lloyd, Jr, Florence Price, Jeremiah Evans, Adolphus Hailstork, William Grant Still, John Robinson, Valerie Capers and jazz greats Duke Ellington and Kenny Dorham.

Click here to read a review of our recent concert performance of Zenobia Powell Perry's opera "Tawawa House" at the SF Presidio Chapel.

Great News! We have just received a $6,000 challenge grant from three anonymous donors. If we can match the grant, we will be able to fund our 2020 concerts.  With your help, we can. Make a donation to the AACI by December 31st and it will be matched dollar for dollar by the challenge grant. Please donate so that we can bring more of the glorious music of black composers to the community.

To donate online, please click here.
To donate by check - make check to InterMusic SF, with AACI at the bottom of the check and mail to:
c/o LaDoris Cordell
4124 Wilkie Way
Palo Alto, CA 94306

See you in January!

With best wishes and appreciation for your partnership in our musical journey,
LaDoris Cordell, Jodi Gandolfi, Deanne Tucker, co-founders, AACI

Monday, October 28, 2019 Ashmont Hill Chamber Music presents Randall Goosby, violin Nov. 10, 4 PM

Randall Goosby

Boston, MA

Sunday, November 10, 2019 - 4:00pm

Ashmont Hill Chamber Music presents Randall Goosby, violin

First Prize winner of the Young Concert Artists International Auditions

Zhu Wang, piano

Sunday, Nov 10, 4pm

Peabody Hall, Parish of All Saints,
209 Ashmont Street, Dorchester

John Malveaux: Terence Blanchard selected 2019 MusicUNTOLD Composer of the Year

John Malveaux of 

Composer/trumpeter Terence Blanchard selected 2019 MusicUNTOLD Composer of the Year. Terence Blanchard was also 2018 MusicUNTOLD Composer of the Year following inaugural 2017 MusicUNTOLD Composer of the Year Michael Abels. Terence Blanchard composed the music for Opera Theatre of St. Louis 2019 world premiere FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES. The opera has been selected for future performances at the Metropolitan Opera. See terence.html and

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Music Kitchen "Forgotten Voices" #9 Featuring Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's "Music Kitchen Interplay"

Forgotten Voices World Premiere

Presented in Association with Carnegie Hall 

May 21, 2020 @ 7:30

Zankel Hall

Kelly Hall-Tompkins writes:

I'm so excited to introduce you to the Forgotten Voices September premiere by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.  Though I had never had the honor of performing Ellen's work before, I am a big fan of her amazing and powerfully evocative writing, and I am honored that she joined this project!  Please read below about the shelter premiere, including the debut of our 4th and final Forgotten Voices featured singer, the wonderful bass Mark Risinger, for a poignant and unique contribution to this cycle.   I am simply thrilled that you will get to hear Ellen's "Music Kitchen Interplay" as well as the 14 other Forgotten Voices works in our Spring World Premiere Concert in Association with Carnegie Hall and at Zankel on May 21, 2020.
Oh yeah, and in case you were wondering:

Music Kitchen is still small.
We are just doing something REALLY BIG.
(and unprecedented and historic and...)
We rely on your generous support now more than ever!

In addition to the "Ticket of Support," many thanks and cheers to those both known and anonymous who are beginning to send donations our way through payroll deduction.  (Is it you?) If you wish to support Music Kitchen and the Forgotten Voices project, your support will also be most welcome by clicking here:
Thank you for all you do.
Warmest Regards,
Music Kitchen New York City - Photos by Gregory Routt

Premiere #9: September

Composer Highlight: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

Photo by Bill Keefrey

Chosen Text:

"Never been so close to a violin, so emotional —excellent timing on the musicians part.  Kitchen Music was a blessing to my hungry body and soul.  How do you get the violin to talk like that?"


At a time when the musical offerings of the world are more varied than ever before, few composers have emerged with the unique personality of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Her music is widely known because it is performed, recorded, broadcast, and – above all – listened to and liked by all sorts of audiences the world over.

Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians [8th edition] states: "There are not many composers in the modern world who possess the lucky combination of writing music of substance and at the same time exercising an immediate appeal to mixed audiences. Zwilich offers this happy combination of purely technical excellence and a distinct power of communication."

A prolific composer in virtually all media, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s works have been performed by most of the leading American orchestras and by major ensembles abroad. Her works include five Symphonies and a string of concertos commissioned and performed over the past two decades by the nation’s top orchestras.

Zwilich is the recipient of numerous prizes and honors, including the 1983 Pulitzer Prize in Music (the first woman ever to receive this coveted award), the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Chamber Music Prize, the Arturo Toscanini Music Critics Award, the Ernst von Dohnányi Citation, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, four Grammy nominations, the Alfred I. Dupont Award, Miami Performing Arts Center Award, the Medaglia d'oro in the G.B. Viotti Competition, and the NPR and WNYC Gotham Award for her contributions to the musical life of New York City. Among other distinctions, Ms. Zwilich has been elected to the American Classical Music Hall of Fame, the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1995, she was named to the first Composer’s Chair in the history of Carnegie Hall, and she was designated Musical America’s Composer of the Year for 1999. Ms. Zwilich, who holds a doctorate from The Juilliard School, currently holds the Francis Eppes Distinguished Professorship at Florida State University.

Forgotten Voices Premiere #9

“Music Kitchen Interplay” by
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
Kodaly Duo for Violin and Cello

Kelly Hall-Tompkins, violin

Peter Seidenberg, cello
Mark Risinger, bass voice

Today we had an intimate but potent ensemble for an intimate but potent crowd.  I was just thrilled to premiere the wonderful new Forgotten Voices Song by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and to pair it with my beloved Kodaly Duo, which made its Music Kitchen debut in today’s performance.

We began our rehearsal with the Kodaly and almost immediately, a woman with blond hair came in and sat down with such determined familiarity that I thought that perhaps she was an unmentioned guest of one of the artists.  She watched and listened to our rehearsal intently from the second row.  It wasn’t until a member of the staff came in to ask her if she might like to perhaps eat before the concert and she stepped out that I realized she was a client.  But in no time at all, she was back in her spot for the rehearsal, watching us closely and with appreciation.

This time I went downstairs to see how many clients were in the building and to possibly advertise if necessary before we were to start.  I smiled when once again I saw the familiar face and red hoodie of Marvin.  “I was looking for you!” he said beaming.  “Will you be there?” I asked.  “Yes” he said, “but I have to meet with my case manager first; I wanted to let you know that I’m getting an apartment!” That’s terrific news!” I said, “congratulations! That means we won’t see you after today, so I really look forward to playing for you one last time at the concert.”  But in a realization of one of my long-term goals, he leaned in and said, “No, not the last time.  I’ll be at your concerts out there, he said motioning vaguely towards the door.  You won’t see me or even know I’m there, but I’ll be...” and he made an applause motions while beaming, his face turned upward as if trained on a stage.

When I returned, this time there was no particular magic which filled the room.  It was pretty much the same intimate crowd, focused towards the back of the rooms as when I left.  Perhaps others had gotten their apartments as well.  I decided we would go ahead and start.

I made my usual introductions while this time preparing our audience for the newer, more virtuosic style of music we would be offering today.  I told them to expect from the Kodaly a raw, earthy energy and harmonies you could feel in your gut. Plus color influenced by the French music of Debussy.  I also told them that Kodaly and his friend Bartok went out into the country with their early recorders and recorded people in the fields and villages singing traditional folk tunes to incorporate into their more formalized music.  How perfectly aligned with our vision for today and these 15 months.  As we began to play, I threw myself into this beloved work which I recorded some 17 years ago on my debut CD.  And yet part of my consciousness was roused by the motion of every movement and possible entrance by a human body near the door, and I willed the top of my eyes and the side of my head to see.  Simultaneously, I worried that I had over promised in my introduction as my other senses seemed to tell me that no one was paying any attention to our performance this time.  Uh oh- would this be the first time my fears would be realized and a concert in a focused, quiet environment would fail to hit the mark?  But when we finished, Marvin punctuated the hearty applause with both arms pumping the air at the end.  And when I asked for thoughts and impressions, Marvin lead eagerly by volunteering about this performance “It completes my day.”  While I breathed a sigh of relief, his enthusiasm was immediately echoed by someone else in the back of the room.  “Me too!” Contrary to my pointers of rawness, this audience heard the solace.  “It eases my day too; it relaxes my mind. Gave me a sense of peace inside,” said the man in the back.  Another interjected, “It’s a work of art.  I tell you- I’ve never heard anything like that before.  I’ve been all over- to Europe... but I’ve never heard anything like that.  But he did pick up on some of what I had mentioned, “It’s not easy!” I immediately quipped, “You picked up on that, huh?” and everyone had a hearty laugh.  Peter wanted to clarify, “not easy to listen to or not easy to play?”  He clarified- “Not easy to play! I can tell how much experience it takes to do what you did.  It sounds nice.”

For another man it reminded him of the time in his high school when other students played instruments.  For yet another man it sounded like “walking on the beach on a sunny day- nice and smooth.”  “You gonna play another one?” He asked.  Yes, I assured.  “Ok, give us the name, the year....”. So I gave them more info about the 31 year old Kodaly who wrote the piece in 1914.  I also told them about how the Hungarian language apparently has many words accented in the first syllable and that Hungarian composers like Kodaly used that in the music as well.

For the next movement I told them that there’s an extended passage that evokes a full-fledged thunder and lightning storm, first the low distant rumble, then flashes of lightning, then moving walking or riding through a hard rain.  I asked them to listen to see if it strikes them that way too.  When we got to the passage, I heard at least at least one person say, “this is it-that’s the lightning.”  But by the time we got to the end, no one was willing to quite venture a guess.  “It sounds nice, the whole thing.”  “Fair enough,” I said, “what did you like about it?”  “It sounds nice,” he said again, it was something different.”  Again, this is a phrase that I have heard from several people over the years, striking me as an indicator that the speaker is moved by what they heard and cannot fully express it.  He continued, “it’s the first time I’m hearing it” I replied, “I’m glad it connects with you the first time you’re hearing it.” I asked, “If you could say one thing that was your favorite thing about it, about this piece, what would it be?  “Just the way it sounds.  It’s something different.”  He went on, “I know they got specific names, that’s a violin, right?” “Yes, and that’s a cello,” I said.  “Yeah, it ain’t easy playin’ that.  I noticed that. I know you don’t just walk out and do that.”  “It’s true, it takes a lot of work,” I replied.

When no one else had any more to say, I then told our audience that we have a really special treat for them, “Oh! Thank you so much,” came a reply.  I introduced Forgotten Voices and introduced Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, sitting right in the front row.  I said that she is not just a composer, but a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who has won 4 Grammy nominations, a Guggenheim and many other awards- and at each of those mentions, the same vocal gentleman in the audiences punctuated the points with vocalizations of appreciation, surprise and esteem- “Oh! Ooh! Wow!” I said that we are so honored to have the contribution and the presence here today of this wonderful composer.  Each Forgotten Voice piece is unique in its own way, but this piece comes to this project by a particularly unique path. Thematically, the material is drawn from a solo violin work that Ellen wrote for the Indianapolis Violin Competition.  But inspired in a whole new way by the Forgotten Voices Project and the words “Never been so close to a violin before” and “How do you get the violin to talk like that?,” she reimagined the piece and has re-gilded the title as “Music Kitchen Interplay.”  

Ellen rose to underscore how particularly inspiring those words were for her in choosing to write for this project, it really “lit her fire” she said.  Mark then read the complete text for the song and he surprised me by saying that he had had the same feeling that this writer the first time he heard me play!  So he too found deep resonance with this particular text, “How do you get a violin to talk like that?” and was happy to now have a chance to render it in song.  I could not be more thrilled and honored that a song for Music Kitchen Forgotten Voices by one of the country’s most celebrated composers will also be part of the virtuoso violin canon and was written specifically for me and Mark Risinger.

We jumped into the work and at the end were greeted with hearty applause and thumbs up. “You get better and better, you crushed it!” said Marvin.  “Sounds like we’re at the opera,” said another.  “It gives you energy,” said yet another and he continued, “something new for us.”  When I asked if they had ever been this close to a violin before, someone called out, “First time!”  And as we have been frequently offering with these new pieces, I asked if we could play it for them again now that they know what to expect.  The voices of immediate and eager approval of this idea felt good to hear.  But before we even started, one client wanted to share what he wrote- “Music is a universal language.  And it soothes the mind and soul of everyone.”   I asked, even though this piece goes all over the instrument, and even though you’ve never heard anything like this before, it’s speaks to you right?”  “Of course,” said one.  Another opened up for the first time to share that his daughters are also very musical, two play violin and one sings.  With that we played the piece again.  “What a voice,” said Marvin.  Someone new, a woman’s voice spoke up, “I liked it.  I like how you were speaking through the instrument.”  Our special guest for today, my colleague and Executive Director of BMI said she liked how there was not just one voice from the violin but many different voices, both in Ellen’s compositional techniques and huge range and my playing of them.  Further for me, with the stark register difference between the highest violin lines and the lowest bass notes, I can almost smell incense on the word blessing, as if in an old cathedral!

Ellen stood to thank the audience and us, and I asked the audience if they’d ever met a composer before.  No one had, so I invited Ellen to speak more about her work.  She spoke eloquently on a really central point that I am also not only passionate about, but on which Music Kitchen is founded.  She showed the audience the score, saying the black dots on the page are what we are given, “But these are the people that bring my music to life.  It takes the human element…”  A client broke in to say, “Because you’re not playing it.”  “No, I’m not, she replied, I’m thinking it and they give it life.”  Immediately grasping it, he chimed in, “They build it up.”  “Absolutely and that’s one of the great joys of being a composer.  And it’s lovely to share it with you,” she said warmly to the audience. A heartfelt “Thank you!” was the immediate reply from our most vocal audience member for today.  But as I was just about to wrap up, finally the woman near the front, who had been listening since the first notes of our rehearsal ventured to speak, shyly and with a tone of voice reminiscent of the hearing impaired.  But she waxed tenderly about the violin sound reminding her of “being with someone that loves them but they don’t know it yet.  It reminds me of those feelings.”  Though I’m not sure I fully grasped her meaning, I was very taken with the power of her sentiment.  Another man continued by saying he loves hearing music live, touching another point on which I am passionate.  I started to wax about how recordings are important to document great performances, but that live music is essential.  The vocal audience member was reminded of listening to Beethoven’s 5th, so I played once again the opening motive.  Though I don’t always mention it here, it never ceases to amaze me how many times that work is evoked in the shelter. 

Ellen further spoke of the little differences between our two performances; she says she loves that as it’s evidence that the work is living and breathing.  The same man wanted to know how she thinks of the notes in the first place.  Ellen replied that of course she works very hard, studied, and also used to play the violin, but still that there’s something very mystical and magical about composition.  Indeed.  I thanked our audience for electing to come upstairs to our concert and for listening, and they returned a hearty thanks to us.  I reminded them that they were the first to hear this piece and the public would hear it second in a concert.  “A concert?” they perked up already at the thought.  “Will it be in New York?”  Smiling on the inside about our upcoming Carnegie Hall World Premiere Announcement, I replied, “Yes, it will, and I hope you will come.  And I am already in contact with shelter staff and the Department of Homeless Services to make sure you can attend if you would like.”  When I reminded them that when they get there, they can say, “I’ve heard this because they already played it for me!” there were light-hearted chuckles around the room.  With that, we took our group photo.

Following are the notes from the listeners:

I really liked the music.

It was fun listening to the alusions of the sound of the musi to the environment of the feelings and senses.  The song choices were good
       1.  The work of pheasants
        2. Thunderstorm
        3. ?
        4. Opera of the violin
Thank you for coming to my ears!

Music is a universal language It soothes the mind and souls of life in every aspects
Learn to love music as you listen to it

The inspiration of the Art’s and the songs
Mr Mark talented singer the tones

(Spanish card- not legible)

Love that style of music.  It makes my day complete…..come again.  And again.
Thanks so much! 😊

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Chicago Sinfonietta: Celebration of Light Nov. 9, 5 PM, North Central College

Sphinx Organization: Don't miss the Sphinx Virtuosi in 2020!

Sphinx Virtuosi inspired audiences around the country with the electrifying For Justice and Peace tour, and will hit the road again in February!

"Solid excellence"
"A fire lit under every phrase"

Zoë Madonna, The Boston Globe

"The performance of every composition was on the highest level."

Barrett Cobb,

“Seeing the Sphinx Virtuosi was an incredible experience. Hearing music written and performed by people of color is unfortunately scarce, but Sphinx is changing that by empowering marginalized voices we need to hear.”

Margaret Kate Andrejco, high school junior

Don't miss Sphinx Virtuosi's 2020 performance dates!

Feb 21: Museum of Fine Arts - St. Petersburg, FL
Feb 25-26 (Residency): Arts and Science Council - Charlotte, NC
Feb 28: Library of Congress - Washington D.C.
Mar 1: The Arts Partnership, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts - Saint Paul, MN
Mar 11: Onstage Ogden, Peery’s Egyptian Theater - Ogden, UT
Apr 2-4 (Residency): Sphinx Virtuosi join Minnesota Orchestra - Minneapolis, MN
May 2: Members of Sphinx Virtuosi with Orpheus at Carnegie Hall - New York, NY
May 19-24 (Artist-in-Residece): Menuhin Competition Richmond 2020 - Richmond, VA