HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT MUSIC
The LaGrange Symphony Orchestra’s artistic direction has brought about a wonderful concert full of historically important music that was totally new to most listeners and musicians alike. The October 30th concert entitled “Women in Music” uplifted three fantastically talented composers and put each one in the spotlight they so deserved. Fanny Mendelssohn, Lili Boulanger, and Florence Price works were featured. Although each composer has now passed on, their contribution to the musical world remains an important asset to be cherished. Through the efforts of the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra, new appreciation for these works has come about. Music director, Dr. Richard Prior, put together this challenging program with three beautiful pieces from influential composers that have been surprisingly under-valued. One piece specifically was chosen by Prior in recognition of the work that Troup County Racial Trustbuilding Initiative is doing here in our area. It was also announced that the $1,000 price tag to rent the orchestral sheet music was anonymously donated in honor of long-standing LSO violinist and emeritus board member Dr. George Henry. LSO president, Kaye Minchew, began the concert with this comment, “Symphony No. 3 in c minor by Florence Price is of historical significance. She is the FIRST African-American composer, male or female, to have a symphonic work performed by a major American symphony. The year was 1933 in Chicago. We believe tonight is the first time that any of Florence Price’s symphonies have been performed by a Georgia orchestra.”
The stage was filled with musicians surrounding a fabulous grand piano. Anticipation was high. The LSO promotions and pre-concert comments explained the meaningful art that we saw on the cover of the program and in a commemorative scarf. The significance of this concert was apparent. The musicians seemed appreciative of the opportunity to perform works that are not in the average symphonic repertoire. With these extra details, this concert was really a celebration.
First on the program was Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel’s Overture in C (1832). Fanny is the older sister of the famed Felix Mendelssohn. In those days, a musical career was for men only. Even though Fanny had great talent and expertise in composition just like her brother, it was her brother who emerged as one of the world’s great composers. She is, however, the first female to have her work published, although many of her compositions were published under her brother’s name.
Overture in C begins as a delicate consciousness, with call and answer passages like morning birds, this was truly peaceful music. It was very melodic and pleasing, rising and falling effortlessly, with excellently smooth but grand swells and counter passages. The performance floated over the audience and was entirely lovely.
Next was Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin de pintemps (Of a Morning in Spring) This was written in the last year of her fragile life, exactly 100 years ago. Lili lived a short 24 years, but within that time she became the first female to win the Prix de Rome composition contest. The piece performed here was a poem in tone. Interpretations of spoken poems depend heavily on the intonation and inflection of the narrative reader. What a difficult task it must be to correctly portray a tone poem! In this case, the LSO musicians grasped the nuances with expertise. The music had beautiful flute passages, fluttering string phrases, and wonderful drama, especially at the end. It is not a very long piece, but surprisingly optimistic with structured whimsicality. We could hear the music teeming with the possibilities of an awakening springtime. What an accomplishment for someone in poor health! D’un matin de pintemps was the last orchestral work completed by Miss Boulanger.
Guest artist for the “Women in Music” concert, Yannie Tan, took the stage next. As the 2018 winner of the Young Artists Competition (YAC), she played Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in c minor Op 18 – first movement. Her age is quite young at seventeen, but Yannie is a very talented, seasoned and mature pianist. With grace and reserve, she performed this virtuosic piano/orchestral work to the delight of the audience. Rachmaninoff was a pianist as well as a composer, so his compositions played to his own strengths requiring equal mastery of powerful chords and incredibly fast and complex passages. Miss Tan’s exquisite performance drew the audience in and earned her a standing ovation along with several flower bouquets.
After an intermission, it was time for Florence Price’s Symphony in c minor. With four movements, this piece touched many different points of view. Each one fresh and different with flowing themes and spirited ideas that kept the percussion section on their toes. Throughout the lovely meandering river of melodies, Florence’s versatility was apparent. She incorporated, urban inspirations, Southern spiritual, and African-inspired dance rhythms that were new to the symphonic world in 1940. Her intention was to portray African-American life both then, and earlier. This was an intriguing piece of music that kept the audience engaged to the very last note. How wonderful for this piece of history be given a voice.
Florence Beatrice Smith Price (1887–1953) composed over 300 works. In 2009, numerous manuscripts belonging to Price were discovered in an old abandoned house in Illinois. These manuscripts were very nearly lost forever.
The “Women in Music” concert, in LaGrange, Georgia celebrated the significant impact that women have had on the world of music. Historically, female contributions have often been over-looked, but that has changed through the years, thanks in-part to Florence Price, Lili Boulanger, and Fanny Mendelssohn, three composers to which we owe a debt of gratitude and who have captured the hearts of the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra and its patrons.
Here is a slideshow of some more of the concert and pre-concert highlights.