Black Music Repertory Ensemble | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Black Music Repertory Ensemble

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The ten-year-old Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College, a leading archive of works written by black musicians from the 18th century on both in this country and abroad, showcases the most significant of its findings in concert tours by its resident repertory ensemble. But while these concerts celebrate a variety of unsung achievements, their anthology format doesn't quite address the issues of what "black music" is or why some composers strive for intellectual respectability by embracing Eurocentric styles. The hodgepodge this time includes plenty of orchestral arrangements of spirituals, a jingoist blast (The Spirit of the U.S. Navy by Alton Augustus Adams), a couple of African folk tunes, a euphonium-driven polka (by Edmond Dede), and the fairly academic Hughes Set (1979) by Wendell Logan. But the oddest entry must be In Memoriam: Hermann Conaway (1994) by William Russo, a longtime Columbia professor and an adviser to the center who, by the way, is not black. One might have expected Russo, known for his pop-culture bent, to mix in jazz and blues, but not this time; the 15-minute tribute to a former Columbia dean of students is said to be in the vein of Poulenc and Verdi--purportedly evocative of the urbanity that Russo associated with his subject. Mezzo-soprano Hilda Harris, tenor William Brown, and baritone Robert Honeysucker are the featured soloists; also participating are the Morehouse College Glee Club of Atlanta and the ace gospel trio the Barrett Sisters. Kirk Edward Smith conducts. Monday, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-6666 or 663-1600, ext. 559.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Carol Rosegg--Martha Swope Associates.

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