Linn Records and the RSNO mark the centenary of George Walker’s birth, announcing new recording Posted Mon 27 June 2022
AFRICAN AMERICAN VOICES
KELLEN GRAY conductor
ROYAL SCOTTISH NATIONAL ORCHESTRA
Physical & Digital Release Date: 28 October 2022
Together with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and its Assistant Conductor Kellen Gray, Linn is thrilled to celebrate the centenary of George Walker’s birth with the forthcoming recording of his Lyric for strings. William Levi Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony and William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1 complete the programme.
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra teams up with its Assistant Conductor Kellen Gray to record works by three of the twentieth century’s greatest African American voices. Released to coincide with Black History Month, the two symphonies by William Levi Dawson and William Grant Still proved to be fundamental in the utilization of Afro-American idioms within the symphonic form. Each composer focused on one of the two original staples of African American music: folk and jazz. William Levi Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony takes its inspiration from West African folk idioms, American Negro spirituals and early African American folk rhythms and songs from Gullah culture. William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1 draws its influence from elements popular in jazz and pre-jazz. Although the latter is the more well-known figure in American music, Dawson was every bit as significant in the timeline of African American music, and his only published symphony is astonishingly mature for a composer’s earliest efforts at symphonic writing. This programme also celebrates the centenary of George Walker’s birth with the inclusion of his Lyric for strings.
Kellen says: ‘It’s always a great honour to stand before the RSNO and that honour is magnified greatly when the works we perform are by composers to whom I feel inexorably connected, such as William Dawson, William Grant Still, and George Walker.
All three composers are vital to the fabric of American classical music of the 20th century. Walker shattered a glass ceiling, changing perceptions of the level of accomplishment in composition possible in his era. The Dawson and Grant Still symphonies were a great evolutionary step in Dvořák’s vision that American classical music be based on idioms of original folk music styles: the music of early African-America – spirits, cakewalks, field hollers, jubas and eventually rags, blues, swing, and jazz.
Upon first listen to both William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony and William Grant Still’s Afro-American Symphony, I was transported back to my very earliest musical experiences: Sunday mornings at my family’s home church in Catawba, South Carolina; a place where vocal traditions are direct decedent from the ancestors who lived there in the seventeen and eighteen-hundreds. South Carolina being the epicentre of America’s tragic part in the international trade of African people, it also became the cradle of American musical traditions. Like roses blooming through concrete, the genius and ingenuity of our early African-American ancestors was implacable even under the siege of enslavement. Each one of these works resonates so deeply with me because they are woven with the same musical threads that I’ve heard since birth.
Like all great composers, Dawson and Grant Still display not only an incredible amount of compositional skill, elite manoeuvrability in thematic development, but, most importantly, a mature voice and identity so early in their compositional lives. Only the greatest of composers, sound like themselves so early.
I think our listeners will hear irresistible melodies – both tragic and jubilant – profoundly complex compositional architecture, rich and luscious harmony, and a peek into history – both of each composer’s time and before.’
The RSNO’s recording African American Voices was made possible with funding from the Jennie S Gordon Memorial Foundation. The RSNO is also grateful to the Solti Foundation for their support of Kellen Gray’s Assistant Conductor Chair.
For further information, please contact:
Constance Fraser (RSNO): firstname.lastname@example.org
Arabella Christian (RSK): AChristian@rskentertainment.co.uk