In the name of great talent

Concert: The Marian Anderson String Quartet will perform in Columbia on Jan. 11.

January 02, 2003|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It stands to reason that a string quartet bearing Marian Anderson's name would blaze a unique trail in the world of classical music.

Anderson, after all, was the African-American singer who changed the course of her nation's history with her concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939.

Denied the opportunity to perform at Washington's D.A.R. Constitution Hall because of her race, the artist enthralled 75,000 listeners with the luscious contralto voice destined to become one of the great expressive forces of the 20th century.

Anderson would go on to become the first black singer to appear on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, and when she died in 1993 at age 91, the nation mourned the loss of one of its true cultural legends.

So it's no wonder that when a talented foursome then known as the Chaminade String Quartet won the International Cleveland Quartet Competition in 1991, becoming the first African-American chamber ensemble to win a classical competition, the players asked permission of the legendary singer to use her name as their own.

When Anderson responded with heartfelt approval, the newly named Marian Anderson String Quartet was off and running, ready to begin carving its own legacy of musical excellence, inclusion and outreach.

Candlelight Concerts of Columbia will present this ensemble in concert at the Smith Theatre at 8 p.m. Jan. 11. The group will perform quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn and Colderidge Taylor Perkinson, as well as the grand and dramatic F minor Piano Quintet by Johannes Brahms. Joining the strings for the Brahms will be Howard University pianist Raymond Jackson, a graduate of the New England Conservatory in Boston who earned master's and doctoral degrees from the Juilliard School in New York.

For diverse concert venues, few chamber groups can match violinists Marianne Henry and Nicole Cherry; violist Diedra Lawrence; and cellist Prudence McDaniel, the Anderson Quartet's intrepid members.

While their ambitious concert schedule has brought them to such rarefied settings as the Kennedy Center, the Corcoran Gallery and Library of Congress in Washington, the Cleveland Institute of Music and New York's Alice Tully Hall, the quartet also has performed in churches, libraries, museums, soup kitchens and prisons.

They also have brought music to thousands of children across the country. A recent $140,000 grant from Da Camera of Houston has enabled the ensemble to set up community residency projects across the Western and Southwestern portions of the country.

As much as any musical organization, the Anderson Quartet has heeded the words of Hungarian educator-composer Zoltan Kodaly: "We have to establish already in schoolchildren the belief that music belongs to everyone and is, with a little effort, available to everyone."

The ensemble brings extraordinary repertoire to Columbia.

The Brahms' Piano Quintet is a grandly symphonic chamber work full of arching melodic lines, passionate outbursts, and intense swings of emotion.

Haydn's Opus 33, #2 is so steeped in vivacity and wit that it is nicknamed "The Joke," while Colderidge Taylor Perkinson's 1st Quartet spotlights the talent of an important contemporary composer.

Perkinson, 67, one of the founders of Florida's Symphony of the New World and the coordinator of performance activities at the Center for Black Music Research, incorporated the spiritual "Calvary" into the work, which he wrote as a student exercise at the Manhattan School of Music when he was 16 in 1951.

Pondering the remarkable success of these gifted, socially aware musicians takes us back to the words of Anderson.

"The minute a person whose word means a great deal dares to take the open-hearted and courageous way," Marian Anderson said, "many, many others follow. I have a great belief in the future of my people and my country."

Candlelight Concerts presents the Marian Anderson String Quartet and pianist Raymond Jackson in concert Jan. 11. The concert at the Smith Theatre on the campus of Howard Community College begins at 8 p.m. General admission tickets are on sale for $28; $24 for seniors; and $9 for students. Information: 410- 715-0034 or 301-596-6203.

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