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For the second year in a row, two outstanding organizations whose membership consists entirely of young people joined forces, on January 18, to remember the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. As was the case last January, Capitol Broadcasting Company and the A.J. Fletcher Foundation led community efforts to make the program possible, and CBC and AJF personnel played prominent roles during the event, which was in many respects more of an occasion than a concert. As in previous years, this program was a major musical component of three days of tributes to King, given under the banner of "'One Nation... One Dream' - The Dream Is In Our Hands," that involved a total of eight formal events.
The challenge with presentations that are annualized - like recurring performances of Messiah , for example - is to keep them fresh. In the observation under discussion, things are simplified for the organizers because youth ensembles turn over their memberships so often, and the singers and players move on to other things. Meanwhile, more senior attendees continue to benefit from returning on a regular basis to the sustaining and renewing river that the life of Dr. King represents to our nation. Some works were repeated on this occasion, but as our readers know, every performance is a one-time event with its own uniqueness, and this Meymandi Concert Hall presentation included several new works, one of which was a world premiere, and involved a total of five maestri, so it was a very, very big deal.
Thing got underway with William Grant Still's admirable "Fanfare," an uplifting score that called upon the full resources of the Triangle Youth Philharmonic, a 94-member orchestra led by Hugh Partridge. Still's "Fanfare" isn't just for brass and percussion, although those sections are prominently featured. The piece is at once celebratory and reflective, and it set the tone for things to come.
Tamini Anderson, President of the Raleigh-Wake Pan Hellenic Council, made opening remarks and introduced Volanda Calloway and Gerald Owens (standing in for David Crabtree, who was in Iowa), of WRAL-TV, the evening's MCs. Associate Producer Tom McGuire, long a mainstay of the Fletcher Foundation, paid tribute to Bruce Lightner, Co-Chair of the 2004 Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration Committee, Inc. (http://www.king-raleigh.org/splash.htm [inactive 5/05]), and to the corporate sponsors, and to CBC's Paul Pope, and to Partridge.
William Henry Curry's Eulogy for a Dream was introduced by Partridge, who reminded the substantial crowd that the composer has said the score may be considered funeral music for Dr. King. It is often radiantly scored, moving, dramatic, and, at the end, uplifting. Curry himself conducted the TYP, and the narrators, reading from King's speeches, were Tinsey Taylor, of Louisburg High School, and Adrianne Pinkey, of Broughton High School. Curry is no stranger to the TYP, which he has led from time to time during his tenure here, with the NC Symphony, and he is an outstanding composer and arranger whose compositional activities have been honed by his years of experience on the podiums of orchestras in the US and abroad.
The second half began with Anthony Hardison leading The Nationally Acclaimed Award Winning Martin Luther King , Jr., All-Children's Choir in one of the group's signature pieces, "This Little Light of Mine," by Harry Dixon, accompanied by the choir's regular director, Randy Shepard, piano, and a rhythm section. The 2003 Emmy Award winning "Aren't They All Our Children," by David Foster and Linda Thompson, with orchestral accompaniment, was led by Shepard, whose coordination of the two large groups - there are 122 singers in the choir - was excellent. The soloists were Delia High and Eric Jones.
The evening's major new work was by Elmer Gibson, nationally-known but Raleigh-based jazz pianist and composer, arranger, band leader, painter*, architect..., whose latest CD, The Elmer Gibson Trio Live (LifeForcejazz LFJ 1024), recorded on a cold winter night a decade ago, finally came out last year. Based on his remarks during the concert, it is clear that his two-part "Blue Prelude" (for orchestra) and "Praise Anthem for MLK" (for orchestra and chorus) may be his largest original compositions to date and that the pair may be viewed as works in progress. That said, the double-header made a powerful impression. Gibson conducted the Prelude, eliciting wonderful sounds from the TYP. The music is rich and full, and the allocations of the various forces are brilliantly handled. Early on, there's a touch of impressionism, but the work otherwise bears few recognizable fingerprints from other orchestral masters. It is often subtle and discreet, and the dynamics are shaped with great skill. Gibson said it was a reflection on his personal memories of the '60s, and it was indeed evocative of many of the moods those of us who lived through that period must feel now, in retrospect. The second part, the Anthem itself, is hymn-like and graced with many traditional touches. Shepard conducted this section while Gibson contributed piano commentary, including many riffs, not all of which emerged clearly from the massed choral-orchestral fabric. The inclusion of texts in the program would have helped. Here's hoping that the work will be presented again next year, or earlier.
The grand finale, also led by Shepard, was a positively Ivesian rendition of Peter Wilhousky's arrangement of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," embellished with descants (on "Gloria") for girls' voices above the usually-boys-only introductory passages. Gibson had described the work of the youngsters in his composition as a tour de force, and that term certainly applied to the "Battle Hymn," too. It brought the people in the hall to their feet and sent them back out into the world with happiness and hope in their hearts.
*An exhibition of Gibson's paintings is currently at Stonehaven Jewelry Gallery, Ltd., 1063 Darrington Drive, Cary. Phone 919/462-8888.