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

By David Salazar
(Photos Courtesy of Pam Chaddon, Chamber Orchestra of the Springs / Taken during rehearsal)

Back in February, Eapen Leubner’s Art Song Colorado presented “Voices of the African Diaspora,” a concert dedicated to Black composers throughout the centuries. Audiences had the chance to listen to works by Joseph Bologne, H. Leslie Adams, George Walker, Jessie Montgomery, Andre Myers, and Undine Smith Moore, among many others.

The showcase featured 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 entitled “Pillars of African American Art Songs,” opened up the opportunity to present at a panel discussion “Programming African-American Music” 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 for a project, we decided to focus on rarely, if ever, performed works.”

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

OperaWire also had the chance to catch up with each of the soloists who spotlighted the pieces from this concert that most inspired them.

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” 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 lovely moment for the listener, and as a singer, it makes it just makes me want to melt into the texture of the piece. I’m really looking forward to performing this one again soon.”

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

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

As for King, a mainstay of the Memphis Opera scene, his favorite pieces of the concert were Dunbar’s “The Valse” and Myers’ “Double Negative.”
“‘The Valse’ is a beautiful journey of love, even unto death. For me, this piece was a beautiful tribute to someone I recently lost who was like a mom to me growing up in Memphis,” he noted.

As for Myers’ “Double Negative,” “a fusion of rap and orchestrated music,” King noted it was “the first time I’ve ever rapped in public and I must say it was a treat of my life! The message of Myers’ music is very timely, highlighting the pursuit of appreciating life’s everyday gifts.”

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


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