Orchestra celebrates Hailstork's life's work

Music: BSO turns to an old friend for its eighth `Young, Gifted and Black' concert.

July 02, 1999|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Adolphus Hailstork is understandably excited that a major American orchestra is about to devote an entire program to his music.

"You bet I am," says the composer by telephone from Norfolk, Va., about tonight's performance of an all-Hailstork program by the Baltimore Symphony in Meyerhoff Hall.

"This is the first time ever that anyone has ever done a program of my music. Heck, unless your name happens to be Beethoven or Brahms, it's rare for anybody!"

The occasion for tonight's performance is the BSO's eighth annual "Live, Gifted and Black" community concert. It marks the 10th anniversary of the orchestra's Community Outreach Committee, which tries to increase the involvement of blacks in the BSO's programming, management and volunteer activities.

"I've been associated with it and its dreams for years," Hailstork, 58, says about his involvement with the COC. "And I've been associated with this orchestra for even longer -- all the way back to 1980, when it performed `Epitaph.' "

Actually, his association with the BSO dates back even longer than its first performance of "Epitaph," Hailstork's eloquent tribute to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The BSO first programmed his music in 1966, when it performed "Statement, Variations and Fugue," Hailstork's 1966 master's thesis at the Manhattan School of Music.

"My God -- you're right," says the incredulous composer. "It's been 33 years!"

They've been good years, too -- years in which Hailstork has emerged as one of America's distinctive musical voices. He is a composer who combines the craft he learned from Nadia Boulanger in Paris and David Diamond in New York with the interest in folkloric color and ethnic idioms he absorbed from H. Owen Reed, who directed his doctoral dissertation at Michigan State University.

Hailstork is sometimes identified as an "African-American" composer, who musically mines his roots in such pieces as the oratorio "Done Made My Vow" and the cantata "I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes" -- both of which will be performed tonight by the orchestra with Daniel Hege conducting. The BSO will be joined by the Morgan State University Choir and several distinguished soloists, including soprano Janice Chandler and tenor Thomas Young.

But Hailstork is impossible to pigeonhole. His best-known work, the overture "Celebration," which has been performed by almost every major orchestra in the United States, sounds as if it might have been written by a Mexican composer. And the forms and styles he uses in his other works, while bearing his personal stamp, display his mastery of many contemporary harmonic practices.

"He's just a terrific composer -- period!" says conductor David Zinman, who became acquainted with Hailstork's music almost 20 years ago, scheduled it frequently during his tenure as the BSO's music director, and has said he plans to program it in Europe with his Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra.

Hailstork's other prominent champions include Estonian conductor Neeme Jarvi, who premiered the composer's Symphony No. 2 with the Detroit Symphony last December. His commissions from almost a dozen American orchestras and opera companies include those from the New York Philharmonic and the BSO.

Tonight's program will be taped by National Public Radio's "Performance Today" for broadcast later this year, and the orchestra will record the program on Wednesday and Thursday for a CD release sometime next season.

Hailstork has been prominent for so long, it is hard to believe he has not been enticed by one of America's prominent schools of music away from Norfolk (Va.) State University, the historically black college where he has been teaching since 1977.

"I've received invitations, but most of those places are up north and have too much snow," says Hailstork, who was born in the upstate New York snow-belt city of Rochester and raised in the equally frigid environs of Albany.

"Norfolk's as close to bad weather as I want to be," he adds. "As far as I'm concerned, cold weather is non-negotiable."

Concert

What: The Baltimore Symphony performs works by Adolphus Hailstork

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. (also carried live on WEAA-FM, 88.9, and WETA-FM radio, 90.9)

When: 7: 30 tonight

Admission: Free

Call: 410-783-8000

Pub Date: 7/02/99

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