Recently Daniel Gilliam talked with cellist Alisa Weilerstein about her new all-Dvořák album, released in January of this year. The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra led by Jiří Bělohlávek joins her in the Cello Concerto in B minor, and the rest of the album consists of some of Dvorak’s songs arranged for cello and piano, which she performs with Anna Polonsky. Alisa also talked about her work as an advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Although he concentrated on smaller pieces for piano, Scott Joplin wrote an opera. Joplin wrote Treemonisha in 1910 and had a vocal/piano score published the following year at his own expense. Joplin presented parts of the work to a Harlem audience, but it was met with little enthusiasm. Treemonisha wasn’t fully performed until 1975 by Houston Grand Opera with orchestration by Gunther Schuller. It received a “historically informed” arrangement in 2003 by Rick Benjamin to better reflect the instrumental forces at Joplin’s disposal.
It’s difficult to describe Treemonisha in a few words. It’s not grand opera. But it’s not completely a Ragtime opera either. There are stand-out songs in the work, including Aunt Dinah has blowed the horn and A real slow drag. The opera takes place on a former slave plantation near Texarkana in 1884. Treemonisha is a young educated former slave who rallies her community to throw away the shackles of ignorance and superstition. She is kidnapped and almost murdered, but is saved. The people choose her as their leader as they reject mysticism and realise the value of education.
Treemonisha has received recent performances in the Schuller arrangement. Rick Benjamin presents selections of his arrangement occasionally and released a recording of the full score in 2011.
Inon Barnatan has an envious career already, and can now add Artist-in-Association with the New York Philharmonic to his resume. The multi-year collaboration will give Barnatan his New York Philharmonic debut and multiple concerts with the Philharmonic and also in chamber settings.
He’s in town to play Ravel with the Louisville Orchestra on February 27th and March 1st, and stopped by to talk with Daniel Gilliam about the Ravel Piano Concerto he’s playing this week (and with the NY Phil), his new position in New York and his Harlem apartment that used to be a warehouse.
As part of our celebration of Black History Month, WUOL will present a series on Blackness in Opera. The very first opera to feature an African-American theme was written by an Englishman. Frederick Delius wrote about the American slave trade in his third opera “Koanga.” Written in 1896-97, Delius drew upon his experiences while living on a Florida orange plantation. He lived near the home of a black family and spent many evenings there playing music with them. As he did, he soaked up the unique harmonies of the American black tradition.
The story tells of an African prince, Koanga, who is sold into slavery in the American south. Also an Voodoo priest, Koanga curses his captors. His owners introduce Koanga to the beautiful slave Palmira in hopes to assuage his wrath. It is an ill-fated love however as the opera ends with the execution of Koanga and Palmyra’s suicide.
Although Koanga was Delius’s third opera, it was the first to be performed. It was first staged publicly in Elberfeld, Germany in 1904. Koanga received its British premiere in London in 1935. The opera’s first performers were not of African heritage. The London debut featured the noted Australian baritone John Brownlee and the Russian soprano Oda Slobodskaya as Palmyra. There is currently only one complete recording of Koanga available on compact-disc. One of Delius’s most popular pieces is an arrangement of a dance from the opera called “La Calinda.” The work is still performed in live performances sporadically.