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Realizing as we passed the posters of the Augustus Saint-Gaudens exhibit, currently on display at the NCMA, that we would not have time for it on the afternoon of February 23, I remembered the chamber music concerts that are held regularly at Saint-Gaudens' former home in Cornish, New Hampshire, near Dartmouth College. The sculptor's famous tribute to the Shaw regiment that stands opposite the State House on Boston Common came to mind as we entered the museum's concert hall to hear Quaternion's program, "Accentuating African-American Chamber Music," a parallel salute to Black History Month.
Four musicians working ensemble are usually called a quartet. Not so for these creative pedagogues from North Carolina Central University in Durham. They chose an obscure synonym that I had to look up in the dictionary. The most likely meaning is "a set of four parts, things or persons." It was not possible, as he suggested to the audience, for me to locate Timothy Holley at the reception to ask him how they happened to choose the name.
This program was a fine overview of some lesser-known compositions by little-known black composers, performed by accomplished artist faculty. Timothy Holley, cello, performs frequently with the Mallarmé Chamber Players and the North Carolina Symphony. He was a member of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra for 12 years. It was his spoken program notes that brought the chosen compositions to life. Yet, not realizing the educational purpose of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild's Sights and Sounds on Sundays series, at least one new audience member was distracted by the virtual lecture. Those who expected it remarked that it was one of the best-presented commentaries yet given on the series.
Composer Undine Smith Moore (1904-89) was represented most frequently on the program, from the opening ensemble for soprano, flute and violoncello, "He is the Compassionate, the All-Bountiful" (1978), to the finale, her Afro-American Suite, for flute, cello and piano (1969). Her inspiring arrangement of "Come Down Angels" was shifted programmatically to conclude soprano Kimberly Joy Wood's group of vocal selections. Wood's lyric soprano voice was entirely pleasing, and she always received fine ensemble support from accompanying instrumentalists. An active member of NATS (the National Association of Teachers of Singing) and NANM (National Association of Negro Musicians), she teaches at the Music Academy of Eastern Carolina in Greenville and at NCCU.
Accomplished pianist Paula Harrell selected three of Twenty-Four Negro Melodies for Solo Piano , Op. 59 (1904) by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912): "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" (No. 22), "Steal Away" (No. 23), and "Wade in the Water" (No. 24). It is interesting to note that Harrell is also an organ recitalist and that she has recorded organ music of African-American composers. She is an Associate Professor at NCCU
Holley acquitted himself nicely in Two Pieces for Unaccompanied Cello (1973), based on Ewe tribal chant rhythms. These were compositions of Noel Da Costa (1930-2002). Another opportunity for the cellist was "Impulse," for solo cello (1958), by John E. Price (1935-96).
Ira Wiggins played flute and saxophone alternately. With Holley, the "Variations à due," for saxophone and cello (1984), by Hale Smith (b.1924), was especially effective as it is a rarely-heard combination of instruments. Wiggins played flute in the opening ensemble with voice and later in the finale. This artist can boast being a part of two command performances at the Clinton White House. He is Director of Jazz Studies at NCCU and is one of the most active musicians in the Triangle area.
This enlightening program, which went far beyond the level of a college lecture, has the promise of attracting attentive concert audiences in the future if presented with printed program notes and attended by professional stage hands, perhaps in jeans, in the style of a touring company.