The Charlotte Symphony Returns

By Lawrence Toppman

Belk Theater was full Friday night for the public return of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.

Not full of listeners: We sat in masked pods of two and four, separated not only by multiple seats but multiple rows behind and before.

Not full of musicians: The stage contained 30 people, including saxophone soloist Branford Marsalis and conductor Christopher James Lees.

But full of delight at hearing an orchestra in person for the first time in 15 months, full of wonder upon rediscovering the power of live music.

Were there glitches? Of course. Lees took over when COVID-19 restrictions trapped music director Christopher Warren-Green in England. The musicians, who’d played just once for an audience – a small group of invitees — since winter 2020 sounded rusty once or twice. Even the drinking fountain in the lobby made a grinding growl when asked for water, like a sick grizzly roused from hibernation. (As I left, I saw it draped in funereal plastic.)

Yet the concert became a celebration and a renewal. Levine Cancer Institute president Derek Raghavan, a current CSO board member, introduced it by saying, “It’s been a tough year folks, and this is our coming-out party.” At the end, after Lees and Marsalis left the stage, the crowd gave the musicians spontaneous applause while they packed up their instruments. As patron Cristina Bolling noted afterward, we’ve all spent 15 months listening to headphones, mobile devices and stereos: Sound resonating around a hall, where we can’t pause the music to grab a sandwich, is new to us again.

Realities of modern concertgoing – perhaps permanent, perhaps not – became apparent immediately: No paper tickets, paper programs replaced by downloadable ones, no cash accepted by staff validating tickets for parking garages, no snacks or drinks in the lobby. Probably no one missed the food and drink during a 55-minute event with no intermission, but that could become an issue at a full-length show.

The symphony offered a much more interesting program than it has traditionally done in its Classical Series, though I’m happy to see that the 2021-22 season contains more unusual fare. (You’ll find a list of those concerts here.)

Concertmaster Calin Ovidiu Lupanu got brief chances to shine in Bela Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, inspired by music the composer absorbed in Lupanu’s native land. The tempos, slightly slower than is common, let Lupanu bring out the melodic elements and let us hear more details in one of Bartok’s most accessible compositions.

Marsalis then came on for Erwin Schulhoff’s “Hot-Sonate,” four movements tinged with jazz and blues elements for the soloist and orchestral sections that sound like a slightly discordant jazz band. The musicians seemed disconnected from Marsalis at first, but Lees righted them, and the third movement jelled beautifully: The orchestra tapped out staccato chords as Marsalis played a bluesy melody Duke Ellington might’ve written for Johnny Hodges in 1930.

George Gershwin’s “Lullaby,” an assignment from a music teacher, always seems flaccid to me in both its original string quartet version and his later orchestration. So I couldn’t tell whether the numbing, Mantovani-like wash of sound was his responsibility or Lees’.

But the pace picked up with Jacques Ibert’s Concertino da Camera. Like most of Ibert’s music, it’s insouciant and witty without making emotional demands on the audience. It does make musical demands on the players, though, especially in a long cadenza where Marsalis blew wild riffs – was he improvising? – that yielded moments of pure joy. If anyone in the audience still needed a reminder of why we ought to hear music live, there it was.

The concert repeats at 7:30 p.m., May 15, 2021, at Belk Theater, click here for more details.

Pictured: The Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center; Courtesy Charlotte Symphony.

A Musical Bouquet for Mother’s Day

Treat the mother figures in your life to a bouquet of beautiful music this Mother‘s Day! This playlist celebrates motherhood‘s many forms in classical music, featuring pieces dedicated to mothers, about mothers, and by mothers for their children.

“Songs My Mother Taught Me”
– Antonín Dvořák

Portrait of Antonin DvorakAchingly beautiful and heart-wrenching, Dvořák’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me” comes from the song cycle Gypsy Songs. When the narrator’s mother taught her to sing as a child, tears would often spring to her eyes – and now that she is teaching her own children to sing, she understands why.

“Mother to Son”
– Undine Smith Moore

Professor Undine Smith Moore aka Undine Eliza Anna Smith Moore (25 August 1904 – 6 February 1989) was a notable and prolific African-American composer of the 20th century.Undine Smith Moore’s evocative choral setting is the perfect match for Langston Hughes’ famous words of encouragement from mother to son: “Well, son, I’ll tell you: / Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”

Pictured: Professor Undine Smith Moore by Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use.

– Richard Strauss

Levi StraussProud moms, you’ll relate to this one. Strauss’ “Muttertändelei” (“Mother-talk”) gives a mother’s perspective on her child’s best qualities: “Just look at my lovely child! / Not too moody, not too choosy, / Always friendly, always happy! / Folks, do you have such a child? / No, folks, you don’t!”

“Empress of Night”
– Amy Beach

Portrait of Amy BeachDepicting a powerful empress responsible for the beauty of daybreak, Amy Beach dedicated the song “Empress of Night” to her mother, Clara Cheney. Beach later incorporated the melody into her Piano Concerto’s Scherzo. 

“Oh Yemanja (Mother’s Prayer)” from Scourge of Hyacinths
– Tania León

Tania LeonTania León’s opera Scourge of Hyacinths follows Miguel, a falsely accused prisoner, as he awaits sentencing. The aria “Oh Yemanja (Mother’s Prayer)” poignantly illustrates the depths of maternal love as Miguel’s mother prays for his protection.

Pictured: Tania León by Michael Provost, CC BY-SA 3.0.

“Grandmother’s Minuet”
– Edvard Grieg

Portrait of Edvard GriegGrandmothers deserve to feel the love on Mother’s Day, too! This sweet minuet comes from Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, a collection of 66 short pieces for piano. 

“Kleiner Walzer (Mi Teresita)”
– Teresa Carreño

Portrait of Teresa CarrenoTeresa Carreño dedicated this playful piece to her young daughter, Teresita Tagliapietra, who would later follow in her mother’s footsteps to pursue a career as a concert pianist.


Oscar Preview: Breaking Down the 2021 Competitors for Best Original Score

by Marisa Mecke

On Sunday, April 25, five exciting and innovative film scores will go head to head for Best Original Score at the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony. Ranging in style and sound, the nominees up for the Oscar are Soul, Mank, Minari, News of the World, and Da 5 Bloods.


Composers: Jon Batiste, Atticus Ross, and Trent Reznor

Still from "Soul"Pixar’s Soul, a frontrunner in this year’s Best Original Score category, swept the world in 2020 with beautiful animation, heartfelt storytelling, and music at its core. Jamie Foxx stars as Joe, a middle school band teacher on the verge of his big break as a jazz musician. When Joe’s soul is accidentally transported outside of his body, he must find his way back to life on earth – and rediscover what truly matters to him. 

The film required two separate musical sounds to capture its distinct worlds: New York City and the “ethereal cosmic realms of The Great Before.” To achieve this, frequent collaborators (and Nine Inch Nails bandmates) Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross teamed up with the acclaimed jazz and R&B musician Jon Batiste. A pianist and composer, Batiste hails from a New Orleans dynasty of jazz musicians who have helped to shape the city’s distinctive music scene. Batiste composed the film’s jazz sequences, while Reznor and Ross scored the new-age landscape that emerges as the protagonist, Joe, crosses into an alternate world.

Reznor and Ross have earned not one, but two nominations this year for Soul and Mank. Previously, the duo has won one Oscar together for their work on The Social Network (2010). Spanning cinematic genres, Reznor and Ross have also crafted scores for blockbuster hits such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), Gone Girl (2014), Bird Box (2018), and documentaries such as Before the Flood (2016). 


Composers: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Still from "Mank"Reznor and Ross’s second nominated score accompanies the dramedy Mank, which follows alcoholic social critic and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he completes the screenplay of Citizen Kane (1941) for Orson Welles. In homage to the films of the 1930s and 40s, the biographical picture was shot entirely in black and white.

Though Reznor and Ross usually favor industrial, electronic sounds, the duo created a dark, lush soundscape for the old Hollywood backdrop in Mank using only instruments authentic to the 1940s, incorporating the brass tones and swing tempos popular during the time period to set the scene.


Composer: Emile Mosseri

Still from "Minari"Minari (meaning “water celery”) is a semi-autobiographical film based on the childhood of writer and director Lee Isaac Chung. Depicting a Korean family who start a farm in rural Arkansas during the 1980s, the film illustrates the family dynamics between children, parents, and grandparents as they adapt to their lives in a new country. 

Composer, pianist, and singer Emile Mosseri created a rich, ethereal score for Minari that required a full 40-piece string orchestra. Before writing the screenplay, Chung presented Mosseri with 80 snapshots of childhood memories, which served as inspiration for the sweet, sweeping melodies Mosseri utilizes throughout the film. While Mosseri has scored for films such as The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) and Kajillionaire (2020), Minari is his first Academy Award nomination. 

News of the World

Composer: James Newton Howard

Still from "News of the World"A veteran of cinematic scoring, composer, conductor, and record producer James Newton Howard has scored over 100 films and has received nominations for Academy Awards, Emmy Awards, and GRAMMY Awards. This year, Howard is nominated for his work on the film News of the World, starring Tom Hanks as Civil War veteran Jefferson Kyle Kidd. Kidd is charged with delivering a young girl (who had been taken by the Kiowa people years before) to her aunt and uncle against her will. 

Howard contributes an engaging soundtrack with a southern twang to the Western drama, chronicling the pair’s travels and trials together across the plains of Texas. Howard has scored for blockbuster films such as The Dark Knight (2008) and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) and most recently won awards for his contributions to the 2008 movie Defiance

Da 5 Bloods

Composer: Terence Blanchard

Scene from "Da 5 Bloods"Trumpeter, composer, and multi-decade Spike Lee collaborator Terence Blanchard’s Best Original Score nomination for Da 5 Bloods follows his first Oscar nod for the hit film BlacKkKlansman (2018). Da 5 Bloods tells the story of four Black Vietnam War veterans, who return to Vietnam seek the remains of their fallen squad leader and the gold fortune he helped them hide. 

Blanchard has composed the scores for over 40 films and recorded for more than 50, winning five GRAMMY Awards from 14 past nominations. Blanchard’s sweeping score to Da 5 Bloods avoids synthetic instruments, opting for wide orchestral suites and smaller instrumental ensembles. Director Spike Lee chose to highlight Marvin Gaye’s music in the film’s soundtrack, a decision which Blanchard explains shaped the score:  

“It automatically just sent me down a direction, musically, where I wanted the score to have a grand feel to it… I knew that Gaye’s music was going to cover a certain aspect of the emotion of dealing with social injustice in this country.”


Whether or not Blanchard wins the Oscar, he has another exciting development on the horizon: Blanchard’s opera Fire Shut Up in My Bones will debut in the 2021-2022 Metropolitan Opera season, the first opera by a Black composer staged by the Met in its 136-year history.

Sources and Further Reading:

Oscars Predictions: Best Original Score – Will Reznor and Ross’ Double Noms Cancel Each Other Out? (Variety)

‘Da 5 Bloods’ Composer on Spike Lee’s Vision, Marvin Gaye’s Message and Hollywood’s POC Blindspot (Variety)

Terence Blanchard: About

Emile Mosseri- Minari (Sacred Bones Records)

Trent Reznor (All Music)

Atticus Ross (All Music)

Mank on Netflix: who wrote the music and can you buy the soundtrack? (BBC Music Magazine)

Oscar-Nominated ‘Minari’ Composer Credits This Tim Burton Movie as Inspiration (The Wrap)

Terence Blanchard On The Music Behind ‘Da 5 Bloods,’ Working With Spike Lee And The Lasting Impact Of Marvin Gaye (Grammy.com)

The Score of a Lifetime: WDAV Staff Picks for National Film Score Day

Some of the world’s most thrilling, evocative, and captivating music can be heard in surround sound at your local movie theatre.  Great film scores not only have the power to keep us on the edge of our seats, but they can also spark emotion and resonate with us in ways we never expected. In celebration of National Film Score Day (April 3), we asked members of our staff to answer the question, “If you could choose one original film score to be the ‘soundtrack to your life,’ which would you choose and why?”

Amarcord promotion poster with characters of the film clapping (upper right) and art renderings in lower left corner.

Doug Rubel,

“Nino Rota’s Amarcord. Translated, the title means ‘I remember,’ and at this point in my life, I remember everything – the good, the bad, and the ugly (which was a close second). The music is hauntingly melancholic and beautifully nostalgic. I first became aware of Rota’s music when, as a young teen, I saw the Albert Brooks film short – with Gilda Radner as the femme fatale – on Saturday Night Live.

The music Brooks used was from Amarcord, a film I would not see until I was in college. The main character, Titta, came from a dysfunctional family, as did I, had some pretty out there friends, as did I, and engaged in some risky behavior, as did I. I could honestly relate, and the music throughout the film only served to embellish Fellini’s stream-of-consciousness plot.”

Movie poster for An American in Paris with the names of the lead actors and "the music of George Gershwin"

Myelita Melton,
Associate Producer of Concierto & Afternoon Host 

“The film score that’s the soundtrack to my life would be An American in Paris by George Gershwin. I still remember hearing my first words in French in elementary school. The French language, the country, and its people became my passion, and I went on to earn my Master’s degree in French. Every time I hear An American in Paris, it takes me back to the ‘City of Lights.’  C’est fantastique!”

Still from movie Rushmore with Jason Schwartzman standing at chalkboard with arm extended holding chalk in his right hand, staring menacingly into camera.

Will Keible,
Director of Marketing and Corporate Support

“Without a doubt, it has got to be Mark Mothersbaugh’s score for the Wes Anderson film Rushmore. Most will remember Mothersbaugh as the bespectacled, whip wielding, flower-pot dome hat wearing frontman of the band Devo. What they may not know is that he is also one of the great film and TV score composers of our time.

The opening scene of Rushmore with Mothersbaugh’s music sets the stage for a magically hilarious romp through adolescence. It’s Mothersbaugh’s ability to express the optimism, magic, and naïveté of youth through music that makes it the soundtrack to my life.”

Still from 1917 with two solidiers talking to each other in front of outdoor stone doorway.

Jay Ahuja,
Corporate Sponsorship Representative

“Oddly enough, two war film scores recently knocked me out: 1917 and Dunkirk. I don’t believe either won an Oscar [for Best Original Score], but each time, I remember leaving the theater and thinking the score made the movie even more dramatic. At the risk of showing my age, Prince’s Purple Rain was another score that made a big impression. If I had to pick one, it would be 1917.”

Still from "Brief Encounter" with Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard.

Rodger Clark,
Director of Philanthropy & Special Projects

“No film score history would be complete without a mention of the 1945 British romantic drama Brief Encounter. It is based on a play by Noel Coward (Still Life) and tells the story of two people – both married – who fall in love after a chance meeting at a railroad station.

The musical score of the film is mostly Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. It is prominent throughout the movie. The film was awarded the Palme d’Or at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Oscar in several categories in 1947 but did not win.”

Still from Lord of the Rings with Frodo (Elijah Wood) reaching for a ring.

Heidi North,
Administrative Assistant
“LORD. OF. THE. RINGS. It’s all I ask for in life.”

5 Classical Moments and Milestones from the 2021 Grammy Awards

by Marisa Mecke

The 2021 Grammys highlighted musical works of all genres that have excelled during the difficult past year. Inside and outside of the Classical categories, classical musicians and artists made their mark on this year’s ceremonies. 

1. English singer, songwriter, and record producer Devonté Hynes (also known as Blood Orange) was nominated for two separate awards for “Fields,” his first album of classical compositions: Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance and Best Engineered Album, Classical. Hynes has also collaborated across genres with artists such as Solange Knowles, Florence and the Machine, Mariah Carey, and HAIM and recently composed the score for the film Queen & Slim. Though he did not take home a GRAMMY award, Blood Orange did make a special appearance: to kick off the festivities, Hynes joined Harry Styles on bass for the opening performance of Styles’ song “Watermelon Sugar.”

Watch Harry Styles and Blood Orange Perform “Watermelon Sugar”

2. Mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne won the Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to opera. Over the course of her career, Horne has received 15 GRAMMY nominations and won 4 awards for her 1964 album “The Age of Bel Canto: Operatic Scenes,” 1981 album “Live From Lincoln Center — Sutherland/Horne/Pavarotti,” 1983 album “Leontyne Price & Marilyn Horne in Concert at the Met” and a 1993 recording of “Semele.” 

Video: Watch Marilyn Horne Sing Aaron Copland’s “Simple Gifts”

3. Nominated for Best Classical Instrumental Solo for his album “Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas,” Russian-German pianist Igor Levit’s beautiful performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata at the GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony was a standout moment. Levit has always had a deep relationship with Beethoven’s sonatas: Writing for The Guardian, Levit describes studying under Karl-Heinz Kämmerling – and focusing intently on Beethoven’s Op. 2, No. 2 with near obsession. 

Video: Igor Levit Plays Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata at the 2021 Grammy Awards

4. Ten artists affiliated with the Sphinx Organization won GRAMMYs this year: J’Nai Bridges, mezzo-soprano; Drew Forde, viola; Celia Hatton, viola; Billy Hunter, trumpet; Stephanie Matthews, violin; Jessica McJunkins, violin; Weston Sprott, trombone; Titus Underwood, oboe; Clayton Penrose Whitmore, violin; and Tahirah Whittington, cello. The Sphinx Organization is a “social justice organization dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts,” dedicated to fostering and supporting diversity “at every level” in classical music. Violinist Jessica McJunkins (also known as Lady Jess), who once interned for the Charlotte Symphony and attended the UNC School of the Arts, has gone on to collaborate with artists such as Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, and more. At this GRAMMY Awards Ceremony, McJunkins was honored for her performance on the album “Smyth: The Prison,” which won Best Classical Solo Voice Album. 

Video: Watch Jessica McJunkins’ Tiny Desk Concert with Sudan Archives

5. Winning the GRAMMY for Best Classical Compendium, opera singer Isabel Leonard and the San Francisco Symphony’s music director Michael Tilson Thomas were featured for their work From The Diary of Anne Frank & Meditations on Rilke. Influenced by the words and spirit of Anne Frank, the piece also borrows from poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s works for inspiration. 

Video: Hear Michael Tilson Thomas talk about the Diary of Anne Frank & Meditations of Rilke


Pictured: Lady Jess (Jessica McJunkins) photo by Zach Hyman/ladyjessmusic.com

Michael Tilson Thomas: From the Diary of Anne Frank & Meditations on Rilke (Warner Classics)

Sphinx Music: Our History

Dev Hynes (Wikipedia) 

Immense. Harrowing. Exhilarating: pianist Igor Levit on Beethoven’s sonatas (The Guardian)

Fields (Cedille Records)

Michael Tilson Thomas: From the Diary of Anne Frank & Meditations on Rilke (The San Francisco Symphony)

2021 Grammy Awards: the Full List of Winners (NPR)

Grammys 2021 Winners: See The Full List Here (Pitchfork)

Marilyn Horne awarded Lifetime Achievement Award- The Bradford Era

Women in Classical Composition: An A to Z Playlist

Pictured (from left to right): Caroline Shaw, Ysaÿe M. Barnwell, Dawn Avery

In honor of Women’s History Month, this curated playlist features one composer and work for each letter of the alphabet, showcasing the incredible variety and scope of women’s achievements in classical music.

Alicia Urreta

A Alicia Urreta: Influential Mexican pianist, composer, and teacher and founder of Mexico’s National Symphony Orchestra

Selected work: “Suite Gàstrica” (Avuimúsica – Col Lecció de Música Catalana Contemporània Vol. 7)

B Barbara Strozzi: Italian composer and vocalist of the Baroque period, published more music in her lifetime than any other composer of the era

Selected work: “Amor dormiglione” (Metamorfosi – Baroque Impressions)

Caroline Shaw

C Caroline Shaw: North Carolina-raised American violinist, singer, and composer; youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music

Selected work:Partita for 8 Singers: No. 2. Sarabande (Partita for 8 Voices by Caroline Shaw)

Dawn Avery

D Dawn Avery: Genre-bending Mohawk composer, cellist, and vocalistdedicated to indigenous cultural preservation

Selected work: “Abundance” (Alchemy – Music for Meditation)

E Errolyn Wallen: Versatile British composer of orchestral, choral, chamber, and solo works; recipient of the Ivors Composer Award and honored as one of BBC’s 100 Women in 2018

Selected work: “Pace” (Peace on Earth)

Florence Price

F Florence Price: American composer, pianist, and organist known for excellence in symphonic composition; the first Black woman composer to have a composition performed by a major orchestra

Selected work: Symphony No. 1 in E Minor: IV. Finale

G Gabriela Lena Frank: American contemporary composer, pianist, and teacher, current member of the Silk Road Ensemble and recent recipient of the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities

Selected work: Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout: VI. Coquetos

Hildegard von Bingen

H Hildegard von Bingen: 12th century German abbess and polymath known as the most recorded composer of sacred monophony in modern history

Selected work: “Spiritu Sanctus Vivificans” (Naked Byrd 2)

Ilse Fromm-Michaels

I Ilse Fromm-Michaels: 20th century German pianist and composer, founder of the Hamburg First School of Music and Drama and recipient of the Johannes Brahms Medal

Selected work: 4 Puppen, Op. 4: No. 2, Der Hampelmann

J Jessie Montgomery: American composer, violinist, and teacher whose classical works weave together “vernacular music, improvisation, language, and social justice”; 2 time Sphinx Competition laureate

Selected work: “Starburst” (Strum: Music for Strings)

Karen Tanaka

K Karen Tanaka: Prolific and award-winning Japanese composer; often takes inspiration from the natural world

Selected work: Night Bird for Alto Saxophone and Electronics

L Lili Boulanger: 20th century French composer; first female winner of the Prix de Rome and sister to famed educator Nadia Boulanger

Selected work: “Nocturne” (Janine Jansen: Beau Soir)

M Mari Ésabel Valverde: Frequently commissioned American composer, singer, and educator in singing and transgender voice training; 3-time ASCAP PLUS award winner

Selected work: “Darest, O Soul” (Cantus: The COVID-19 Sessions)

N Natalia Janotha: 20th century Polish pianist and composer of over 400 works

Selected work: Mazurka in A Major, Op. 6 No. 2 (The Salon of Polish Women Composers)

O Olga Neuwirth: Austrian composer of chamber and electronic works; 2021 Wolf Prize laureate

Selected work: CoronAtion I: io son ferito animè (Solo) 

Pauline Viardot

P Pauline Viardot: Famed 19th century French mezzo-soprano, pedagogue, composer, and polyglot

Selected work: “Hai luli” (Chant d’amour)

Q Lucia Quinciani: Italian composer of the 16th century; first known female composer of monody

Selected work: “Udite lagrimosi spirti” (Juana Ines De La Cruz)

Rebecca Clarke

R Rebecca Clarke: British-American 20th century composer and viola virtuoso known for strikingly powerful chamber, choral, and vocal works

Selected work: Viola Sonata: I. Impetuoso (Rebecca Clarke)

S Sulpitia Cesis: 16th century Italian composer, lutenist, and Augustinian nun; only known work is a volume of 23 Motetti spirituali

Selected work: Motetti spirituali: Hodie gloriosus (Tactus: Sulpitia Cesis)

Tania León

T Tania León: Cuban-American composer, conductor, and arts advisor, founding member and first musical director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and multi-award winner

Selected work: “Parajota Delaté” (Indígena) 

U Unsuk Chin: South Korean composer and proponent of experimental and electronic composition

Selected work: Piano Concerto: Movement 1 (Unsuk Chin: 3 Concertos)

V Valborg Aulin: Prolific 19th century composer and pianist, arguably the most important Swedish symphonic composer of the 1880s

Selected work: String Quartet in F Major, Op. 17, No. 1: I. Allegro (Musica Sveciae)

W Wendy Carlos: Three-time GRAMMY award-winning American composer of electronic music and film scores

Selected work: “Tron Scherzo” (Disney’s Tron)

X Xin Huguang: Modern Chinese composer whose work incorporates elements of Mongolian folk music

Selected work: “Ka Ta Mei Ling” (Ga Da Mei Lin)

Ysaÿe Maria Barnwell

Y Ysaÿe Maria Barnwell: American composer and female bass vocalist known for choral works and compositions for dance, film, and the stage

Selected work: “We Are…” (One Voice: Conspirare Christmas 2012)

Z Zenobia Powell Perry: American composer, professor, and civil rights activist known for blending contrapuntal and tonal frameworks with jazz and folk influences

Selected work: Piano Potpourri: No. 4 “Flight”



Alicia Urreta (By Blackcow30 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Caroline Shaw (by Feast of Music, CC BY 2.0)

Dawn Avery (by Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office – PHFL+soNativeAmerican-p-1-Heritage, CC BY 2.0)

Florence Price (by Source, Fair use)

Hildegard von Bingen (by Unknown author – Miniatur aus dem Rupertsberger Codex des Liber Scivias., Public Domain)

Ilse Fromm-Michaels (by Anita Rée – From the booklet of CD ‘Ilse Fromm-Michaels. Complete Paino Works’, Public Domain)

Karen Tanaka (by DR825 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Pauline Viardot-Garcia (by Unknown author – Unknown source, Public Domain)

Rebecca Clarke (By Hopkins Studio, Denver, Colorado, United States)

Tania León (by Photo by Michael Provost, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ysaÿe Barnwell

Classically Trained: Houston Person

By Marisa Mecke

Discover something new today! This series explores the lives and contributions of classical artists with connections to the Carolinas. Intended as quick “brain breaks” for learners of all ages, these educational features can be divided into sections for daily reading or used as lesson plans for students at home.

Jazz saxophone virtuoso Houston Person is a prolific performer and record producer whose work spans decades and genres. With a style described as relaxed and distinctly expressive, Person has recorded more than 100 jazz, disco, gospel, pop, and R&B albums and continues to perform well into his eighties. Person plays fluently in styles from hard bop to swing, but he is best known for his influential work in soul jazz. 

Video: Houston Person: What a Wonderful World
Early Life, Education, and Experiences

Born in Florence, South Carolina in 1934, Person began his musical journey by learning to play the piano as a child. At 17 years old, Person received a tenor saxophone for Christmas, which led him to make the switch to the instrument he is famous for today. His classical training continued after high school at South Carolina State College, where he completed his undergraduate degree before enlisting in the army. 

After college, Person joined a service band while stationed in West Germany with the United States Air Force, where he played with many notable musicians such as Don Ellis, Eddie Harris, Cedar Walton, and Leo Wright. Person then furthered his music education at the Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut. During his graduate studies, he gained experience playing in clubs all around New England, practicing and performing with fellow jazz talents before his career took flight. 

Fun Fact: In 1999, Person was inducted into South Carolina State College’s Hall of Fame for his contributions to the music industry. 

Video: Lisa Ferraro with Houston Person – Teach Me Tonight
Rise to Fame

Person’s rise to fame began when he became known for a series of albums with the jazz label Prestige Records in the 1960s. After years of building a career in the jazz circuit, Person made his Prestige debut on organist Johnny “Hammond” Smith’s 1965 album The Stinger. The experience was influential to Person’s style: after he formed a band of his own in the early 1970s, Person continued to feature the organ (a staple of the soul jazz subgenre) in his own music. His first album as a leader was Underground Soul!, released on the Prestige Records label in 1966. 

During this time period, Person often worked with late singer Etta Jones. A three-time Grammy Award nominee and 2008 Grammy Hall of Fame inductee for her album Don’t Go to Strangers, Jones met Person while working with one of Hammond Smith’s bands at Prestige. The pair played together for 35 years, with Person serving as her manager and producer until her death in 2001. 

A Career in Motion

Though Person is well into his eighties, his career shows no signs of slowing down. In an interview at the San Diego Jazz Party, Person noted that at his age, his wife feels that he should cut back on the month long tours he continues to book. However, Person is dedicated to his music career and cherishes the places it has taken him, stating that “everything I ever did, I stand by. For me, it’s been a wonderful journey.”

Truly an independent artist, Person is also known for self-managing his thriving music career, booking his own appearances and producing his own records. In 1982, Person received the Eubie Blake Jazz Award, a prestigious honor named for the esteemed 20th century pianist, lyricist, and ragtime and jazz composer.  

Advice and Mentorship

An inspiration and mentor, Person has guided many young musicians in their careers, including jazz pianist Joe Alterman. Despite their 55 year age gap, Person and Alterman have developed a close friendship while playing together at jazz clubs in New York. Person’s best advice to young musicians is to “know your craft. It’s hard work. Get an education, but don’t sacrifice one for the other. Learn to speak for yourself. Blow your horn.” 

In an interview with The Orangeburg Times and Democrat,, saxophonist Thomas “Skipp” Pearson recalls living by South Carolina State College and listening to Person practice in the college’s band room alongside jazz greats like Lonnie Hamilton and George Kenny. Pearson has always remembered Person’s advice: “Once you find your voice, the rest is easy, and then you just play from your heart and soul.”

Video: Joe Alterman, Houston Person, James Cammack, Lewis Nash –
“Blue Moon” – at the Iridium (Joe Alterman)
Spotify Playlist
  1. “Willow Weep for Me” – Houston Person, I’m Just a Lucky So and So
  2. “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” – Ron Carter and Houston Person, Now’s the Time/Something in Common
  3. “Everything Happens to Me” – Houston Person, The Talk of the Town
  4. “Talk of the Town” – Teddy Edwards and Houston Person, Horn to Horn
  5. “My One and Only Love” – Houston Person and Ron Carter, Remember Love
  6. “Just My Imagination” – Houston Person, Legends of Acid Jazz
  7. “I Can’t Get Started” – Houston Person and Ron Carter, Chemistry
  8. “The Sin-In” – Johnny “Hammond” Smith and Houston Person, The Soulful Blues
  9. “The Girl from Ipanema” – Teddy Edwards and Houston Person, Horn to Horn
  10. “Crazy He Calls Me” – Houston Person, Something Personal
Sources and Further Reading

“Houston Person” (Inter-Jazz.com)

“Houston Person” (Concord Music)

“Preserving the gem: Revered jazz musician credits Orangeburg for his love of the genre” (The Times and Democrat)

“Artist Biography”  (Scott Yanow, allmusic.com)

“Houston Person: It’s Been a Wonderful Journey” (The Syncopated Times)

“Meet the Weird, Wonderful and Sexiest Duo Since Brangelina: Joe Alterman and Houston Person”  (Huffington Post)

Pictured: Houston Person by Steve Mynett Vancouver, Canada, CC BY 2.0.

Love Notes: 4 Romantic Letters from Classical Music History

1. Orpheus “King” Fisher to Marian Anderson

Iconic contralto Marian Anderson found her one true love in architect Orpheus “King” Fisher, but their path to a life together wasn’t without its obstacles. Anderson and Fisher met in their teens when she was invited to perform at his family’s home, and after dating for a short while, Fisher began to talk about marriage and running away together. Wanting a career in music, Anderson did not share his desire to marry quickly. The pair soon moved on from one another, but Fisher continued to pine after Anderson. After his first marriage crumpled and Anderson’s career began to take off, Fisher sent her letter after letter, begging her to respond and assuring her that he could be trusted: 

Marian Anderson

“I am always thinking of you and wishing and hoping you were home and with me… I only get a thrill from my Marian.” (p. 73)

Fisher and Anderson eventually rekindled their relationship. In 1940, the couple purchased a 100-acre farm in Connecticut, where Fisher designed and built an acoustic rehearsal studio as a gift to Anderson. After twenty years together, she agreed to marry him in 1943. 

Source: Marian Anderson: A Singer’s Journey (Alan Keiler), A Life Well Sung: With Eleanor Roosevelt at her side, and a young MLK in the audience, singer Marian Anderson inspired change with an historic concert (Grid)

2. Erik Satie to Suzanne Valadon

Composer Erik Satie’s unusual habits are no secret – and in Suzanne Valadon, he seemed to have met his match. A free-spirited painter and artist’s model, Valadon was known to feed her least favorite paintings to her pet goat, wore “a corsage of carrots,” and even donned a unique gift from Satie during their whirlwind romance: a necklace made of sausages. Satie, who had had no known romantic relationships before Valadon, was so smitten that he proposed to her on the night they met. In his own writings, Satie included a snippet from one of his love letters to Valadon:

Erik Satie

“You are in me complete, everywhere, I see nothing but your exquisite eyes, your gentle hands and your little child’s feet.”


Valadon almost immediately moved into a room next to Satie’s, and the couple exchanged artistic tributes to one another: Valadon presented Satie with an experimental oil portrait, and he composed the piece Bonjour, Biqui, Bonjour as a gift to her. Unfortunately, the relationship would end as quickly as it began. Many sources claim that Valadon left Satie suddenly, leaving him devastated enough to base his Vexations on the breakup, but Satie writes “It was I who broke off the relationship.” In either case, both Satie and Valadon went on to fruitful artistic careers – and Satie may never have dated again. 

Source: “Erik Satie on Himself (1892-1897)” (Naxos), Weird Classical: Satie’s Quirky Relationship With Painter Suzanne Valadon (WQXR)

3. Johannes Brahms to Clara Schumann

After first visiting the couple in Düsseldorf in 1853, then 20-year-old Johannes Brahms developed a fast friendship with both Robert and Clara Schumann – but his feelings for Clara soon grew into something more. As Robert’s health deteriorated in the last years of his life, Brahms began to express his love to Clara in a series of letters: 

Johannes Brahms

“My dearly Beloved Clara, I can no longer exist without you… please go on loving me as I shall go on loving you, always and forever.” (June 1855)

Though it’s unclear to what extent Clara reciprocated his feelings, they both adored Robert and never entered a romantic relationship with one another, even after his death. The pair kept in contact and remained close friends for life. 

Sources: “Out of the Shadows: Clara Schumann” (Minnesota Public Radio), “Musical Love Triangle: Brahms and the Schumanns” (Houston Symphony)

4. Benjamin Britten to Peter Pears

Benjamin Britten’s nearly 40-year love story with tenor Peter Pears was never publicized during his lifetime, and much of what is known about the couple comes from their personal papers, which have now been meticulously archived. Same-sex relationships of all kinds were illegal in the United Kingdom for much of their time together, forcing the pair to keep their life together private. Scores of letters and musical dedications paint a moving picture of their love:

Benjamin Britten

“You are a most adorable man & artist, intelligent, gifted, simple, loving & noble… I am really very, very lucky to be alive with you around.” (Britten to Pears, December 1956)

Britten and Pears were inseparable. Over the years, Britten would write numerous song cycles and roles for Pears, his greatest muse and confidant. When the Britten biography “Pictures from a Life” was published after his death, Pears summed it up simply: it was not “the story of one man. It’s a life of the two of us.”

Sources: “Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976” (ed. Donald Mitchell, Mervyn Cooke, and Philip Reed), “Britten and Pears” (The Red House Aldeburgh)