Sonneck Society for American Music

Bulletin, Volume XXV, no. 3 (Fall 1999)

Performances of Note



The Fifth Gateways Music Festival
Founded by the artistic director Armenta Adams Hummings in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 1993, Gateways Music Festivals bring together African-American musicians from across the country for a sereis of solo recitals, chamber music and orchestral concerts, and lecture demonstrations. The Gateways Festivals have a threefold mission: to increase the visibility and viability of African-American classical musicians; to establish role models for young musicians of all ethnic origins and specifically to encourage young African-Americans to study and seek careers in the field of classical music; and to provide opportunities for African-American musicians to meet, exchange ideas, and revitalize.

In the early 1990s, African Americans comprised less than two percent of the players in American symphony orchestras. Even today many African Americans feel isolated in their home orchestras or college jobs. While it may be impossible to imagine American popular music and jazz without the contributions of African Americans, most people, if asked to visualize an orchestra or string quartet, would not fill those chairs with black faces. For many young African Americans attending the week's events, it was the first time they could look onto the stage at a classical concert and see faces like their own.

Hummings, a concert pianisst, knows well the importance of black role models; it was not until she was thirteen and attended a recital by Marian Anderson that she had allowed herself to believe that blacks had a place in the "mostly white environment" of classical music. Gateways grew out of her desire to provide similar encouragement to her eldest son, who is now a professional violist in Richmond, VIrginia.

This year's festival, the fifth and largest of the festivals, was held in Rochester, New York. Nearly one hundre musicians participated in events held in area churches, community centers, colleges, and at the Eastman School of Music. The festival opened on 29 August with a morning concert of sacred works by the Gateways Youth Orchestra. The evening concert featured the Gateways Music Festival Orchestra performing The Breaks, a jazz-inspired work by Anthony Kelly, the resident composer of the Richmond Symphony, and a spirited performance of Beethoven's Symphony no. 9. The concert brought together nationally known soloists, Gateways participants, and a multi-ethnic chorus drawn largely from the community under the baton of Michael Morgan, the conductor and music director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony.

The evening concert's dual emphasis on both African-American and European composers continued throughout the festival. Every day at noon, pianist Roy Eaton entranced students, faculty, and community members gathered in the main hall of the Eastman School with his sensitively phrased renditions of music composed or inspired by Scott Joplin. Monday evening, Rochester's own William Warfield provided one of the highlights of the week, sharing his life story, singing spirituals and German lieder, coaching young performers, and conversing with the audience. Tuesday evening, the Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church hosted African-American pianists who have made history (including a first-prize winner in the Naumberg competition, Awadagin Pratt) in a recital presenting the works of Scriabin, Gershwin, Coleridge Taylor Perkinson, Bach, and others. In a series of three evening concerts, six different ensembles presented all of Bach's Brandenberg concerti. Mid-afternoon and late-evening chamber music concerts presented the works of William P. Dawson, Coleridge Taylor Perkinson, George Walker, Duke Ellington, Mozart, Michael Haydn, Vivaldi, William Grant Still, Saint Saens, Ulysses Kay, Copland, Manuel de Falla, Hindemith, Kodaly, Eugene Ysaye, and others. As demonstrated by this list, minority instrumentalists and composers may be marginalized, but they refuse to allow their music -- both the music they write and the music they play -- to be forced into anybody else's preordained categories.

The significant precense of music by European composers during the festival raises complex issues surrounding music and identity in America today. Is the current widespread effort to validate and appreciate certain musical traditions rooted in the African-American experience, e.g., jazz or rap, perhaps also an attempt at keeping the European traditions to ourselves? When I asked one of the festival participants about the inclusion of European composers on the programs, he countered that his favorite composer had always been Brahms. "Why should we restrict ourselves to African American composers? Why shouldn't we play the music we love? Brahms is no more your composer [as a white woman] than he is mine." Thus, in this participant's opinion, while the festival did offer more opportunities to hear the works of African-American composers than most other concert series, it stressed that they are an integral part of the classical tradition, no a separate-but-equal one.

The exclusion of non-African-American performers raises other issues as well. Because of its rarity, the sight of an all-black ensemble may recall images of novelty groups of the nineteenth and early twentiwth century. Yet, upon futher reflection, the comparison quickly falls short. Those audiences were segregated, separated by the color of their skin, and the musicians in novelty groups often played together because they were not allowed into higher-status and higher-paying ensembles. The audiences at the Gateways events were not segregated; they were in fact more diverse than at most classical concerts since, in addition to the more typical concert audience the festival succeeds in drawing more African Americans to their performances. There is thus an atmosphere of warmth and excitement at Gateways concerts not found in most concert halls, created by the knowledge that musicians and audience members alike are sharing in something very special. Gateways participants choose to come together to suggest a new possibility for the future, one suggested by the message of Beethoven's nineth symphony, one beyond divisions or barriers. If they succeed in their threefold mission, there may come a day when there is no longer a need for Gateways -- a day when American music-making will truly be a communal enterprise for all Americans. Until that day, we can all look forward to the festival's continued success as it moves to Cleveland next year.
--Heidi Owen
Eastman School of Music



The Chavez-Revueltas Colloquium: A Report from Mexico
Two notable Mexican government agencies devoted to the study and performance of music -- INBA's Coordinacion Nacional de Musica y Opera, directed by Dr. Ricardo Miranda, and CENIDIM (Centro Nacional de Investigacion, Documentacion e Informacion), directed by Jose Antonio Robles Cahero -- collaborated on an international colloquium 8-11 September 1999 in honor of the centenary of Mexico's two formost composers: Carlos Chavez and Silvestre Revueltas.

Scholars and musicians from Mexico, the United States, and Argentina delivered twenty-three papers over a four-day period. Most of the presentations were in Spanish, but some papers were in English, translated on the spot by Mexican scholars. The conference occasioned the combined intellectual efforts of many of Mexico's foremost musicologists, for the subject of Chavez and Revueltas is central to the concerns and even the very identity of Mexican musicology, musical scholarship, and performance. One might imagine a similar Bartok-Kodaly conference in Budapest, but nothing comparable in the United States, where no single musical figures so predominate, where serious American music is so marginalized, and where the country lacks supporting government agencies like INBA and CENIDIM.

The paper sessions began in the morning at ten and continued, with but a half-hour break, until three in the afternoon or later. Because the conference generated interest in the community at large, the audience for presentations sometimes swelled from the thirty core participants to more than one hundred. The first two days of the conference took place at CENART (el Centro Nacional de las Artes), an arts complex, including the National Conservatory, on the south side of the city. The last two days took place downtown at the majestic art nouveau-art deco Palacio de Bellas Artes (built 1904-1934), where the Mexican Symphony Orchestra and Opera perform.

The papers covered a lot of ground: biography, cultural contexts, personal friendships and associations, reception history, analysis and stylistic questions. Most of the leading experts on Chavez (such as Gloria Carmona, Jose Antonio Alcaraz, Max LifChitz, Robert Parker, and Leonora Saavedra) and Revueltas (such as Peter Garland, Roberto Kolb Neuhaus, and Eduardo Contreras Soto) were on hand (or otherwise represented) to speak of one or the other composer. A few papers -- such as those of Aurelio Tello, Robert Stevenson, Talia Jimenez Ramirez, and this author's placed both men's work and reception in comparative contexts.

Naturally, the question of Chavez versus Revueltas, a subject that has veritably obsessed the Mexican intelligentsia since 1935 when the two composers had a falling out, often arose. One got the impression that Revueltas is very much the man of the hour, perhaps in reaction to the many decades of Chavez's domination of Mexican musical life. Moreover, this growing appreciation for Revueltas reflects our post-modern climate, with its taste for the eclectic, the rebellious, and the popular.

The Chavez-Revueltas rivalry assumed added human interest thanks to the prominence of both composers' daughters -- Eugenia Revueltas and Ana Chavez -- both of whom attended the conference. Eugenia Revueltas, a historian on the faculty of the University of Mexico, presented a paper on her father's relationship with the League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists. On the last day of the conference, Eugenia felt moved to criticize some of the more stridently polemical of her father's supporters, reminding them that, given the prevailing conditions of the time, Chavez needed to act authoritatively in the interest of raising musical standards in Mexico.

The four concerts, entirely devoted to the music of Chavez and Revueltas, transcended such polemics, revealing both men as composers of enormous vitality, imagination, and appeal. Wednesday night featured guest conductor, Roman Revueltas Retes (the composer's grandson), leading the Carlos Chavez Orchestra in the Chavez Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (with the dynamic pianist Guadalupe Parronda), and, after intermission, Revueltas's Sensemaya and Redes. On Thursday, the very polished chamber orchestra, La Camerata, under the direction of guest conductor, Jesus Medina, offered a variety of smaller works, including Chavez's Energia and Revuelta's Homenaje a Federico Garcia Lorca and Cinco canciones para ninos y dos conciones profanas, the latter sung exquisitely by Loudes Ambriz.

Friday night, Enrique Arturo Diemecke led the Mexico Symphony Orchestra in Chavez's Xochipilli, and the same Revueltas songs heard two days before this time sung more operatically by Maria Luisa Tamez. The rousing finale, Jose Y. Limantour's brilliant arrangement of Revuelta's film score, La noche de la mayas, scored for a gigantic orchestra, including ten percussion players, brought the house down. The colloquium participants largely considered this last selection a provocative or at least controversial choice, arguing that the popular Limantour arrangement distorts the composer's original intentions. Interest was expressed in hearing Paul Hindemith's two-movement suite of the same work, the manuscript of which is still in the possession of the Revueltas family. But the work -- in an utterly committed performance by Diemecke -- clearly appealed to the large audience who had gathered to hear Mexico's two favorite musical sons.

A chamber-music concert featuring Chavez's Upingos (a lovely work for solo oboe) and Soli I, II, and IV, and Revuelta's Dos pequenas piezas serias (which were not very serious) followed on Saturday afternoon. This concert was actually one of eight such programs honoring Chavez and Revueltas at the Bellas Artes over a four-month period under the direction of Miranda and the Coordinacion Nacional de Musica y Opera.

The performances of all of these Chavez and Revueltas works were uniformly top notch and it is hoped that at least some of them will be made available as CDs. Similarly, plans are afoot to publish many of the colloquium's papers as a book. Of course, Mexico being Mexico, the lavish multi-course meals in the late afternoon, and the smaller but still ample dinners after concerts, provided the conferees numerous opportunities to talk at length about music, art, literature, and more mundane matters. The Mexican government should be congratulated for hosting such an extraordinary event.
--Howard Pollack
University of Houston



Rebecca Clarke Conference and Concert
Rebecca CLarke (1886-1979), an English-born composer and violist of German and American parentage, spent much of her life in the United States, living in New York City from 1944 until her death. She achieved fame as a composer with her Viola Sonata (1919) and Piano Trio (1921) written for competitions of the Berkshire Festival of Chamber Music, sponsored by the American patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Clarke wrote chamber music and songs for her fellow performers, and she also wrote many works (including choral pieces) that were not performed in her lifetime and that remain unpublished in her estate today. A conference on Clarke, organized by this author and Jessie Ann Owens, was held at Brandeis University on 25 September, in conjunction with the New England Chapter of the American Musicological Society. Brandeis sponsors for this event were the Women's Studies program, Music Department, Dean of Arts and Sciences, and the ArtsFest.

Christopher Johnson presented "The Unexpected Rebecca Clarke (Mostly in Her Own Words)," considering the activities of Clarke's life as recorded in a portion of her diaries, and emphasizing the significant role of Clarke's mother in her unpublished memoir, "I Had a Father Too." Deborah Stein offered "The Englishwoman of Many Voices: Clarke's Songs." Stein considered how Clarke's early 20th century musical language offers a unique lens for viewing an era of compositional exploration. She considered several songs as representative of different aspects of Clarke's output, including the early "Shy One" (Yeats), "The Seal Man" (Masefield), and "Tiger, Tiger" (Blake). Each song was composed a decade later than the last, spanning most of her compositional career. Stein's analyses explored how CLarked expressed the form, imagery and progression of three superb poems, with her musical language ranging from tonal to modal to atonal. Paula Gillet's presentation, "The Climate for Female Musical Creativity in Turn-of-the-Century England," considered a number of factors that influenced women's role in society, including the widely-held "scientific" observation that women's alleged inferiority was the result of their smaller brain size. Such "evidence" resulted in the continued belief that intellectual and creative activity for women was not only unnatural but also dangerous. Despite the prejudices they faced, a number of women of a slightly earlier generation than Clarke, including Maude Valerie White and LIza Lehman, made significant achievements as composers in a range of genres. Cyrilla Barr evaluated Clarke's failed attempts to capture the Berkshire Prize in 1919 and 1921. She discussed the well known incident of the jurors being tied in choosing Clarke's work and Bloch's suite for viola as the contest winner. Mrs. Coolidge herself, who knew the identities of the contestants, broke the tie, thus giving the prize to Bloch. Barr offered considerable behind-the-scenes documentation concerning this contest and other Cooledge competitions as well, with Clarke's name part of the distinguished list of "Also Rans" including Hindemith, Webern, and Ruth Crawford. My presentation, "The International Society for Contemporary Music Festival of 1942 and other Contexts for Clarke's Late Works," considered Clarke's Prelude, Allegro, and Pastorale for viola and clarinet, which she, probably at the urging of her friend and festival organizer Albert Elkus, submitted to the 1942 event. It was, as she and others noted, the only work by a woman to be accepted.

The concert, "Completely Clarke," included The Lydian String Quartet in teh world premier of Comodo e amabile (1924) and the local premiere of Clarke's Poem (1926). Richard Buell, writing in the Boston Globe described the quartets as "marvelous" and "lovingly scored . . . and disturbingly (how often one writes this of Clarke) intent on taking the listener into unexpected terrain." The women of Coro ALlegro, directed by David Hodgkins, sang Clarke's two recently published works; Sarah Pelletier (soprano) and Shiela Kibbe (piano) performed songs including "The Seal Man" and "June Twilight" as well as the unpublished late works, "Tiger, Tiger," and "The Donkey"; the Globe review described the songs as "pure gold -- microscopically sensitive to the pulls, tightenings, and easings of the English language." Mary Ruth Ray, viola, and Gary Gorczyca, clarinet, performed the Prelude, Allegro, and Pastorale (1941), which is forthcoming in print from Oxford University Press. This work, according to the Globe reviewer, "had you wondering if Clarke had been listening to some of the more gorgeously bleak passages in Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat and decided to take them farther on." Both the conference and the day scored a great success in drawing some leading scholars into a new area of Clarke Studies, as well as introducing audiences to some rarely heard or never previously heard music by Rebecca Clarke, now increasingly recognized as one of the very best of her time.
--Liane Curtis
Brandeis University



Return to the Sonneck Society Bulletin Index


Return to the American Music Network Home Page



Updated 09/10/99