Black composers and experiences in the spotlight at the Bach Festival – Orlando Sentinel

From moments of great pain will come great music. Aspects of the African-American experience are at the forefront of the upcoming Bach Festival Society concert, in conjunction with the Bethune-Cookman University Concert Chorale.

Slavery and the murders of unarmed black men, including Sanford’s Trayvon Martin, are musically explored in “Elation and Dissent,” which premieres April 23-24 at Rollins College in Winter Park. “The Ordering of Moses” – about the exodus of Jews from captivity – is also on the program, as is a new play written in response to the war in Ukraine.

“We believe music is an aid for social justice and activism,” said Terrance Lane, concert choir director at the historically black University of Daytona Beach. He will conduct the combined Bach and Bethune-Cookman choir rendition of ‘Seven Last Words of the Unarmed’ – creating a rare sight in Sinclair’s absence.

“It’s not too often that conductors leave their podium,” Lane said, acknowledging the moment. “Just the fact that we’re doing this gig together, we hope, says a lot about what the world needs.”

Sinclair, who is white, said it was essential that Lane lead Joel Thompson’s composition, which contains the last words of Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others killed by police or other death figures. authority.

“I don’t know what it’s like,” growing up as a black person in America, Sinclair said. “I have immense empathy but I don’t have the credibility for it.”

George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, shot dead 15-year-old Martin in 2012 in Sanford. He was later acquitted of second degree murder. Brown, 18, was killed by a white police officer in 2014 in St. Louis. No charges have been filed in this case. Garner, 43, died in 2014 after a New York police officer strangled him as he repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.” No charges were filed in that case, although New York City agreed to pay Garner’s family $5.9 million in an out-of-court settlement.

Thompson places each of the men’s last seven words in a different musical style in his piece.

Lane said he could identify personally with the music: he knows what it’s like to be followed by store employees “in case I steal something.” And a cousin was killed by a policeman.

The emotional context of Thompson’s work can create difficult times for singers, Lane said.

“It’s important for us to talk about it during rehearsals, to go through it and to express it afterwards,” he said. “If we can’t feel it, the public can’t feel it.”

Also on the program is Florence Price’s “Ethiopia’s Shadow in America” ​​- a work that Lane and Sinclair selected simultaneously unaware that the other also had it in view.

“It’s a very powerful instrumental piece,” Sinclair said, explaining that the music takes a journey from the arrival of slaves in America, to their resignation to their new life, to the expression of how which their faith led them.

Price, who died in 1953, was a black pianist, organist and composer of over 300 works.

“The Ordering of Moses” was also created by a black composer who did not achieve the deserved recognition during his lifetime: R. Nathaniel Dett, who died in 1943.

“I was moved to tears because I read Nathaniel Dett’s story,” Sinclair said. “He was brilliant and didn’t get his due because of the color of his skin.”

Lane added, “We look forward to the day when our composers can be recognized as great composers.”

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Lane and Sinclair previously collaborated on “The Ordering of Moses,” but this time they plan to record the piece.

Guest soloists on the program include Laquita Mitchell, Krysty Swann, Samuel McKelton and Kevin Deas.

“A Prayer for Ukraine”, by John Rutter, was a last minute addition to “Elation and Dissent”.

“We thought we had to say something,” Sinclair said. “Artists have an obligation to be part of society, to be if not the solution, part of the dialogue.”

Lane pointed out that Rollins and Bethune-Cookman have a long history of supporting each other and contributing to progress on social issues.

“I think we have to use the music to keep the message alive, to keep the motivation alive,” he said. “We won’t let anyone knock us down.”

  • When: 7:30 p.m. on April 23 and 3 p.m. on April 24
  • Or: Knowles Memorial Chapel at Rollins College, 1000 Holt Ave. at Winter Park
  • Cost: $20 and up
  • Information: bachfestivalflorida.org

Find me on Twitter @matt_on_arts, facebook.com/matthew.j.palm or write to me at mpalm@orlandosentinel.com. Want more theater and arts news and reviews? Go to orlandosentinel.com/arts.

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