x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

American Symphony Orchestra / Botstein: Africa William Grant Still

A laudable effort to revive the music William Grant Still, a neglected black contemporary of Gershwin and Copland.

AD201010707279964AR
AD201010707279964AR

If you're wondering who William Grant Still (1895-1978) is, you're not alone. The US composer, a contemporary of greats such as George Gershwin and Aaron Copland, is strangely unknown and unperformed, in spite of the laudable attempts of organisations such as the American Symphony Orchestra under Leon Botstein to revive his works. Still was an African American composer, a fact that both informed his sound and prevented the popular success he might have expected, given the quality and accessibility of his work. Though championed by eminent musicians during his lifetime, 1920s-40s America simply could not equate classical music with the African-American community, which was finding cultural prominence through the Harlem Renaissance. Still worked as an arranger for bands such as Paul Whiteman's orchestra, wrote film scores and was the first black American to conduct a major symphony orchestra. He composed a corpus of extraordinary works that combine the modernist training he received at the hands of Varèse with the traditional folk culture of his grandmother's Spirituals and the urbanity of Harlem's jazz. This, one of his loveliest symphonic works, is a three-movement Gershwin-esque ode to Africa - a continent he never visited but knowingly endowed with all the Hollywood exoticism his American-born imagination could conjure.

One
Rosey Chan
(Ho Hum Records)
The young Chinese-born, London-raised pianist releases her debut album, which is a gentle, if mannered, selection of short piano pieces. Chan is modish and innovative, jumping between musical endeavours and her explorations of contemporary performance art and installations. One to watch, but not for the purists. Goldberg Variations, JS Bach
Benjamin-Joseph Steen (clavichord)
One of the greatest works for keyboard ever written, JS Bach's Goldberg Variations swing from the sublime and gentle main theme to impish, decorative figures and back again, and are rightly revered. Steen mitigates the clavichord's lesser qualities of expression with an agile technique and powerful articulation.