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Almost a year ago to the day, these same players gathered in this same Durham Armory venue to honor the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. On that occasion your dutiful correspondent was impressed with the enthusiastic turnout, the dignity of the presentation and the quality of the musical offerings. In this Second Annual tribute, Music Director William Henry Curry, the players of the Durham Symphony, and their guests were able to match the high standards established there last year.
After expelling the chill of the evening with the National Anthem, the players launched into Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont. Here the essence of that towering composer came through, with strong assistance from the cellos. Curry pointed out the parallel between King’s experiences and those of Egmont, the sixteenth century Flemish general and statesman whose dedication to legal equality cost him his life. Following this piece was the other strictly “classical” selection of the evening, Mozart and an aria from his opera, The Marriage of Figaro. The song “Dove sono” featured Brandi Hancock, a soprano of immense power. She also exhibited outstanding talent later in “Ride On, King Jesus,” the traditional spiritual arranged by Curry for soprano and strings.
Yet another feature of the evening was the University and Alumni Choirs from North Carolina Central University. A musical highlight occurred as Richard Banks led this large group in a Moses Hogan arrangement of “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord.” They followed this precise a cappella treatment with a most stirring rendition of “Harriett Tubman,” Walter Robinson’s exciting modern (and understandably crowd-pleasing) spiritual honoring that great emancipator. She calls to the victims, “Come on up, I got a lifeline.” These same forces joined the orchestra later for “What a Mighty God” by the contemporary composer and performer Eric McDaniels. Although somewhat in the mold of the “Tubman” piece and quite well executed, it failed to recognize a couple of superb stopping places.
“The only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend is love…and every step toward justice requires sacrifice.” Such quotes (or paraphrases) from King characterize the main work of the celebration, Curry’s own “Eulogy for a Dream” (1999). Skillfully narrated by WTVD News Anchor Anthony Wilson, the work captured much of the spirit of the honoree’s greatest utterances. He could foresee in “…this nation a symphony of brotherhood.” He enjoined his hearers to “…seek God and discover him…” He had “…been to the mountaintop” and, though he suspected he might not make it there, he had “…seen the Promised Land!”
Never maudlin or tearful, Curry’s orchestration of this “Funeral Music for MLK” (his suggested alternate title) is of the highest rank, from the opening chimes throughout its stately and sonorous measures. These Durham Symphony players acquitted themselves here with all necessary skills and evident enthusiasm. Anyone who has a chance to hear this work is well advised to do so, whatever the occasion or time of year.