When Music Becomes Political
Bel Canto’s MLK concert and symphony’s program of Brahms and others are both driven by fierce political issues.
Music can take on tough issues, like oppression, triumph and freedom, though it does so in less obvious ways. Two concerts this week aim to show its special power to transcend the borders of culture and language.
“The Dream Lives On,” a concert featuring the Bel Canto Chorus, Holy Redeemer Choir and Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra, will mix the structure of classical works and the power of gospel voices into a profound tribute to the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“It is a great and iconic celebration of not only King himself, but what his dream has become,” says Richard Hynson, music director for the Bel Canto Chorus.
Hyson, who organized the annual concert for the first time three years ago, says the event complements the celebration of King that will take place at the Marcus Center for performing Arts on the same day, but is more adult-oriented.
“I think it is important for Milwaukee, both the African American community and the white community, to embrace this part of its history,” Hynson explains. “They need to bring it to life with words and song.”
For example, the first half of the performance will feature excerpts from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” read by Bishop Sedgwick Daniels at Holy Redeemer Church. The words will be accompanied by Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony Opus 110a (played by the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra), which was dedicated by the composer to “the victims of fascism and war.”
“The first half of the concert deals with the stark drama of these two men and showing repression, inequality, injustice — things Martin Luther King was fighting against in this country,” Hyson explains.
While these works portray the darker side of the arduous journey to obtain freedom, the concert will also features the positive side with hopeful music drawing from the gospel tradition of Redeemer church.
The program includes Roger Holland’s “Lord Make Me An Instrument,” Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia,” and a mash-up between “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” (King’s favorite hymn) and “You Got A Friend.” And of course, no tribute to King would be complete without the words of his “I have a dream” speech.
“It’s not for the black community — I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to help them celebrate their hero,” Hynson says. “But I think Martin Luther King is an American and global hero and I think it is also important for the white community to embrace him in a public way.”
Hynson goes on to explain that this concert gives the chance for different communities to see how local church groups, such as Redeemer, has been able to grasp what King set out to accomplish. “The church has an orphanage, senior housing, a hotel, a bank,” he says. “They are an oasis in what is a really difficult neighborhood.”
Hyson stresses that the concert is a way to expose and sensitize the white community to such issues. “We need to see what seeds Martin Luther King planted and how they’ve grown.”
The concert, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of God in Christ. It will be begin at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 19. More information can be found at the Bel Canto Chorus’ website or by calling the company at (414) 481-8801.
Other Upcoming Events:
“Brahms’ ‘Fifth’” by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
Music history shows that the singular ingenuity of one composer often spawns a wave of brilliant artists in the next generation. Johannes Brahms, is one of those founding geniuses, and is the focus of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s next concert, “Brahms’ ‘Fifth.’”
The MSO, led by its music director Edo de Waart, will feature Viennese masters who were inspired by Brahms to develop the classical genre of “serialism,” including Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton von Webern. The principle performance will be an orchestration by Schoenberg of Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor. The piece will be accompanied by an orchestration by Webern of Bach’s Ricercare from Musical Offering and Berg’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.
Violinist Jennifer Koh, who will join the MSO to perform Berg’s Violin Concerto, says the serialist composers, who dominated between the two world wars, were among the most idealistic artists in history.
“There’s something about that time period that is so incredible,” Koh says. “It’s very much an expression of what was happening at that time. It’s as if governments were enthusiastic about entering these wars and there’s no idea about the devastation that would result.” And artists responded, she says, with powerfully expressive works.
The concert will begin at 8 p.m. on Jan. 17 and 18 at the Marcus Center for Performing Arts. Tickets range from $22-$102, available at the MSO’s website or by calling (414) 291-7605.
Founder’s Concert by the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra
The Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra dives into the classic works of Bedrich Smetana and Sergei Prokofiev in this year’s Founders Concert. The MYSO will be joined by MSO cellist Andrien Zitoun, who will serve as soloist in Edward Elgar’s Concerto for Cello in E minor and Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidre.”
The performance will begin at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 19. It will take place at the UWM’s Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students. More information can be found at the MYSO website.
Milwaukee Symphony Chorus auditions
Those who want to join the Milwaukee classical music scene will the chance this week, as the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus is opening auditions for both new and returning singers.
The mid-season audition will be held on the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 21. More information can be found at the MSO’s website.