With the Larimer Chorale Orchestra and Justin Austin, baritone, and Stephanie Ann Ball, soprano
Martin Luther King, Jr. was fatally shot fifty years ago on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. This was, no doubt, a dark time in our nation's history. Poet, preacher, and prophet, King lived an incredible life and left an extraordinary legacy as the leader of our country's civil rights movement. In this tribute concert, the Chorale will present Kirke Mechem's stirring choral suite Songs of the Slave, along with orchestrated settings of traditional spirituals and gospel music. The concert will draw attention to historical figures such as John Brown, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman and to the music and voices of African-American artists William Grant Still, Langston Hughes, and Maya Angelou. Including Dana Wilson's powerful musical setting of King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963, this concert promises to be one of the most moving in the Chorale's history.
Guest Artists -
Justin Austin, baritone
Praised in Opera News as “a gentle actor and elegant musician”, baritone Justin Austin has been performing professionally since age 4. Born in Stuttgart, Germany to professional opera singer parents, Mr. Austin began his singing career as a boy soprano performing at venues such as Teatro Real, Bregenzer Festspiele, Avery Fisher Hall (now David Geffen Hall), and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Mr. Austin is currently a Resident Artist at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. This summer, he will return to the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis as a Principal Artist, singing the role of Cal in Marc Blitzstein's Regina directed by James Robinson and conducted by maestro Stephen Lord. In November 2018 Mr. Austin will join Palm Beach Opera as a Benenson Young Artist. For the 2017-18 season, Mr. Austin made his return to Carnegie Hall for his recital debut collaborating with award winning composer, conductor, and pianist Damien Sneed. Justin joined New York Festival of Song as a Main Stage soloist for their Opening Night Concerts celebrating the music of Leonard Bernstein at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Kaufman Music Center's Merkin Hall. Mr. Austin was presented in Concert at the Blumenstein Castle in Switzerland along with world renowned tenor and father, Michael Austin. Justin is a recent graduate of the Glimmerglass Festival Young Artist Program where he was featured in concert and on the Main Stage singing the role of Jake in George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess." Joining art, fashion, and technology mogul Rashaad Newsome, Justin premiered Newsome's new conception of his critically acclaimed production "FIVE" at the CTM Festival in Berlin, Germany.
In the 2016-17 season, Justin joined the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts as a "Schwab Vocal Rising Star", New York Festival of Song in their "Emerging Artist Series", Opera Theatre of Saint Louis as a "Richard Gaddes Festival Artist", and Heidelberger Früling as a "Lied Scholar". Mr. Austin was honored by the historic National Association of Negro Musicians Inc. and named the National Winner of their prestigious Vocal Performance Scholarship. Summer 2016, Mr. Austin created the role of Pyarelal Kaul in the critically acclaimed world premiere of "Shalimar The Clown" by Jack Perla and Rajiv Joseph at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. At OTSL, Justin sang as Oreste from Christoph Willibald Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride in their "Center Stage" concert with the St. Louis Symphony conducted by maestro Stephen Lord.
While a bachelor's degree candidate at the Manhattan School of Music, Justin performed the roles of The Chief in the film adaptation of Odeline Martinez’s Imoinda, directed by Hope Clark and produced by the National Opera Center, and as Jake in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at Landestheater Linz in Linz, Austria and at Grand Théâtre de Genève in Geneva, Switzerland. Mr. Austin was featured at the Manhattan School of Music performing the roles of Sabari in Cavalli's La Doriclea, Dr.Malatesta in Donizetti's Don Pasquale and as a soloist in Haydn's Die Schöpfung, Monteverdi's Vespers, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requem. Additionally Justin has performed as the Baritone Soloist in Schubert’s Mass No. 2, Handel’s Messiah, Theodore Dubois’ Seven Last Words of Christ, and Bach's Matthäuspassion. Mr. Austin’s prizewinning competitions include the Benjamin Mathews Vocal Competition, George London Foundation Awards Competition, Leontyne Price Vocal Arts Competition for Emerging Artists, Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition (Lieder/Song and Opera), Eisenberg-Fried Concerto Competition, NANM National Vocal Competition, NAACP Act-So State Competition (Classical and Contemporary Voice), and National Act-So Competition representing New York City. Justin is a proud graduate of the Choir Academy of Harlem, Laguardia Arts, Heidelberg Lied Akademie, and Manhattan School of Music holding a Bachelor of Music Degree and a Master of Music Degree. Mr. Austin is under the tutelage and mentorship of Catherine Malfitano.
Stephanie Ann Ball, soprano
Stephanie Ann Ball, lyric coloratura soprano, is swiftly taking her place in the world of classical music with her warm, strong, lyric voice. From a young age, her parents introduced Ms. Ball to many different types of music. Her father was a funk drummer who taught her about popular forms of music, and her mother gave her daughter more of the classical and gospel musical experience. Stephanie was a performer from the get-go and found her niche when she began studying voice in High School. Ms. Ball began her journey into the opera world as an undergraduate at Northern Arizona University where she sang the roles of Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro and Adele in Die Fledermaus. Ms. Ball continued her studies at Washington University in St. Louis where she received a Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance. She performed several roles there, including Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi, and Papagena in Die Zauberflote. Following graduate school, she made her professional debut with the role of Annina in Winter Opera St. Louis’ production of La Traviata.
Ms. Ball is equally comfortable on the recital stage and frequently performs art songs and African American spirituals with passion and sensitivity. Matt Daniels of St. Louis’ Tavern of Fine Arts says this of her singing: “She… is able to express its meaning to an audience through both the agility of her voice and dramatic movement that can encompass her entire body…” Ms. Ball spent two years as a Young Artist for the Bach Society of St. Louis where she developed a passion for oratorio when she performed as a soloist for Mozart’s Requiem. Since then she has performed solos all over the country for Fauré’s Requiem, Poulenc’s Gloria, Saint-Saëns’ Oratorio de Noël, and many others. She has been district winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in both Arizona and Kansas City.
- Program Notes -
Songs of the Slave
Songs of the Slave is a concert suite based on material from the opera, John Brown, by outstanding American composer, Kirke Mechem (b. 1925). The opera tells the story of Brown, the charismatic abolitionist who dedicated his life to the destruction of American slavery by force of arms. In the concert suite, Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave, is the central figure. Douglass became an influential orator and statesman and was the greatest African-American leader of the nineteenth century; he was John Brown's friend for many years.
1. Blow Ye the Trumpet
These are the words of John Brown's favorite hymn, prophesying both the day of jubilee and the martyr’s death which Brown knew would hasten the destruction of slavery. What tune Brown knew for this hymn is unknown; the composer has written a new melody in the style of early American folk music.
2. The Songs of the Slave
The composer has adapted the words from Douglass' autobiography.
"… Since I came North I've been astonished to hear that the singing of slaves is proof that they are happy and content. How wrong that is! The songs of the slave are the sorrows of his heart. He is relieved by them as an aching heart is relieved by tears …"
The solo baritone singer now represents an escaped slave. The scene is based on a real incident. In December 1858, John Brown helped a slave family escape to Kansas from Missouri, then led them to safety into Canada. During that time, the mother gave birth to a boy whom she and her husband (the solo singer in the scene) named after John Brown. Some of the words come from the spiritual, "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel?".
4. Dear Husband
The text is an actual letter written by a slave mother, Harriet Newby, to her husband Dangerfield, one of John Brown's raiders at Harpers Ferry. Dangerfield was killed in the raid; his wife was sold to a slave dealer in Louisiana.
"… Dear Husband, come this fall without fail. I want to see you so much. If you do not get me, somebody else will. It is said that my master will sell me; then all my hopes will fade …"
5. A Speech by Frederick Douglass
This scene takes place at a gathering of John Brown's family and friends who have asked their guest, Douglass, to let them hear "the famous speech you made in England." Douglass was, in fact, enormously successful in raising anti-slavery funds in England. He was "a consummate actor who used all his powers of ridicule, pathos, mimicry and change of pace."
"… Those who want freedom without struggle want crops without plowing; they want the ocean without its mighty roar. There is no peace without justice! …"
6. Douglass's speech leads directly into this setting of a portion of the Declaration of Independence. Brown's family and friends join Douglass, singing his words antiphonally, all coming together as the repetition of "All men are created equal."
From the Hearts of Women
William Grant Still (1895-1978) is known as "The Dean of African-American Composers". He is remembered for many musical and historical achievements, including becoming the first African-American to:
- write a major orchestral work which was performed by a major American orchestra;
- conduct a major orchestra in the United States;
- lead a major symphony orchestra in the Deep South;
- have an opera produced by a major American opera company;
- have an opera televised over a national network in the United States;
- infuse the classical concert hall with jazz, blues and African elements; and
- be invited to the White House.
From the Hearts of Women is a song cycle for soprano and orchestra with poetry by Verna Arvey (1910-1987), wife of William Grant Still and a prominent musician, lyricist and librettist in her own right. Each of the four movements explores the experiences of different African-American women at the mid-point of the twentieth century. The words of the fourth movement in particular - those of a mother who sees her son die - seem all too appropriate for this memorial concert: "… too soon his last breath came and part of me died too."
I Have a Dream
Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. With over 250,000 civil rights supporters in attendance at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the speech was a defining moment of the civil rights movement. Presidential historian, Jon Meacham, writes that, "With a single phrase [I have a dream …], Martin Luther King, Jr. joined Jefferson and Lincoln in the ranks of men who've shaped modern America."
Powerful words require powerful music and that is exactly what we have with the musical setting of the speech by American composer, Dana Wilson (b. 1946). Wilson holds a doctorate from the Eastman School of Music and is the Charles A. Dana Professor Emeritus at the Ithaca College School of Music, where he and conductor Michael Todd Krueger, were teaching colleagues. Wilson's composition is extremely difficult as it uses twenty-first century compositional techniques together with rhythmic rhetoric to bring portions of the speech to life. The members of the Chorale are very proud to present Dana Wilson's "I Have a Dream" for this memorial concert.
"MLK" is the tenth and final song from U2's 1984 album, The Unforgettable Fire. A lullaby to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., it is a short, pensive piece with simple lyrics. For it, U2 lead singer, Bono, was awarded the highest honor of the King Center. The arrangement is by Bob Chilcott and was premiered by The King's Singers.
Spirituals are a type of religious folksong that are most closely associated with the enslavement of African people in the American south. The very first spirituals were inspired by African music even if the tunes were not far from those of hymns. Spirituals could contain double meanings that seemed overtly Christian and at the same time were "code" for a means of escape. With a little imagine and an appreciation for the original context, the singing of the spirituals "I'm Runnin' On" and "Saints Bound for Heaven" could certainly carry dual meanings before abolition.
Young American composer, Tom Trenney (b. 1977), has set a remarkable poem by Maya Angelou (1928-2014) for soprano and alto voices and piano, "Love Arrives." Trenney writes: "This brilliant poet reminds us that love is not a mere timid, fleeting feeling. It is a courageous struggle which heightens our experience of both joy and pain. For only love can unleash the true freedom of our souls.
"… And suddenly we see that love costs all we are and will ever be. Yet it is only love which sets us free."
Harriet Tubman" is based on a poem by Eloise Greenfield (b. 1929) with the same title.Tubman was often referred to as the "conductor" of the Underground Railroad and as the "Moses" of her people. In recognition of these titles, musical themes from the spirituals "If I Got My Ticket" and "Go Down, Moses" are incorporated into the score. Composer, Rollo Dilworth (b.1970), is one of the most popular arrangers of spirituals and Gospel music in the country and he is in regular demand as a commissioning composer and guest conductor. He is Professor of Choral Music Education at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The poetry of Langston Hughes (1902-1967) inspires the choral suite, Dream of Freedom, embracing the themes of prayer, love, death and perseverance. Through it all, these elements of living influence our constant struggle to be free. The finale of the suite, "Words Like Freedom" is a dramatic, emotional plea for truth and justice … an appropriate finale for our concert and an equally appropriate tribute to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. Composer, Evan Mack, uses a fusion of Broadway, Gospel and spiritual styles to deliver the powerful and decisive message: "Freedom, Freedom!"