‘Voices of the African Diaspora’ – Rare Works by Black Composers Featured by Art Song Colorado

(Photos courtesy of Pam Chaddon, Chamber Orchestra of the Springs / Taken during rehearsal)

In February, Eapen Leubner’s Art Song Colorado presented “Voices of the African Diaspora”, a concert dedicated to black composers through the centuries. Audiences had the chance to hear works by Joseph Bologna, H. Leslie Adams, George Walker, Jessie Montgomery, Andre Myers and Undine Smith Moore, among others.

The showcase included performances by soprano Stephanie Ann Ball, mezzo-soprano GeDeane Graham and baritone Marcus King.

The inspiration for the showcase was a few years in the making.

Leubner told OperaWire that a collaboration with Ball in 2017, a concert titled “Pillars of African American Art Songs,” opened up the opportunity to present at a panel discussion “African American Music Programming” with the Videmus conference at the University of Michigan.

“The conference piqued my interest in producing larger-scale performances by African-American composers,” Leubner added. “When the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs (COS) was looking to partner on a project, we decided to focus on works that were rarely, if ever, performed.”

This led to “Voices of the African Diaspora”, with Thomas Wilson conducting the Springs Chamber Orchestra and Ball, Graham and King as soloists.

OperaWire also had the chance to meet each of the soloists who highlighted the pieces from this concert that inspired them the most.

For Ball, a concert curator and coloratura soprano who is at home in opera and oratorio and has a notable collaboration with ‘Riders of the Purple Sage’ composer Craig Bohmler, there was no doubt that ” Jessie Montgomery’s I Want to Go Home has left the biggest mark.

The first time I dove into the notes of Jessie Montgomery’s ‘I Want to Go Home,’ I was moved to tears,” Ball told OperaWire. “I’ve always loved singing Spirituals, but something about this setting is particularly poignant. The way the strings support the vocal line without overwhelming it creates a pleasant moment for the listener, and as a singer it just makes me want to blend into the texture of the piece. I can’t wait to play this one again soon.”

The highlight for Graham, a University of Michigan scholar and Indiana University graduate, was “Sence you gone away” from Leslie Adams’ “Nightsongs,” the cycle that opened the concert.

“The music and lyrics from the era gave me a sense of peace and comfort as I dedicated the piece to my late brother Keith Gammage Sr who died of COVID-19 last February and my late great aunt Lucille Duckswork , but most of all it gave me strength to keep believing in the speedy recovery of my older brother Willie Rambo,” Graham told OperaWire.

As for King, a mainstay of the Memphis opera scene, his favorite pieces from the concert were Dunbar’s “The Waltz” and Myers’ “Double Negative.”

“’La Valse’ is a beautiful journey of love, until death. For me, this piece was a beautiful tribute to someone I recently lost who was like a mother to me growing up in Memphis,” he noted.

As for Myers’ “Double Negative,” “a fusion of rap and orchestrated music,” King noted that it was “the first time I rapped in public and I have to say it was the treat of my life!” The message of Myers’ music is very timely, emphasizing the continued appreciation of life’s daily gifts.

“Getting to know the music from this concert has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career,” Ball added.

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