Hailstork work intricate, stirring

July 06, 1999|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Baltimore Symphony's annual "Live, Gifted & Black" concerts are sponsored by the BSO's Community Outreach Committee and designed to increase African-American participation in the orchestra's activities. Programs tend to feature music by black composers and performances by black soloists. But Friday's "Live, Gifted & Black" in Meyerhoff Hall was the first devoted to a single composer, Adolphus Hailstork.

Hailstork, 58, is one of this country's finest composers and he deserved the showcase treatment he received.

The concert featured pieces that reflected the choral traditions of African-American churches, the cantata "I Will Lift Up My Eyes" and the oratorio "Done Made My Vow."

The latter is scored for speaker, soprano, tenor and boy soprano soloists, large mixed chorus and orchestra. "Masterpiece" may not be too strong a word for it.

But it belongs to a species of the oratorio genre that may limit its performances to occasions such as that Friday evening. It is the same category that includes Ernest Bloch's wonderful "Sacred Service," which is based on the liturgy for the Sabbath Morning from the Reform Jewish prayer book. It has been the fate of the "Sacred Service" that performances are usually confined to synagogues, emerging in concert halls only on memorial occasions. This is unfortunate: Bloch's "Sacred Service" deserves to be heard by everybody.

That can also be said about Hailstork's "Done Made My Vow." It is constructed along the lines of a church service and features a text by the composer that includes passages from the Bible and the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. While Hailstork's music draws upon both the sacred and secular traditions of African-American music, its formal features -- such as the intricate interweaving of contrapuntal lines -- testify to the composer's mastery of the traditions of Western art music.

"Done Made My Vow" received a performance commensurate with its quality -- terrific playing by conductor Daniel Hege and the orchestra, a prophetically intense delivery of the text by speaker Harold A. Carter Sr. and stirring singing by the soloists (Janice Chandler, Gregory Hopkins and Darrien Cofield) and the Morgan State University Choir. Hailstork's "I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes," which was heard earlier in the program, was conducted by Nathan Carter and featured tenor Thomas Young and the Morgan Choir.

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