John Pitman Review: Summerland – Premieres by William Grant Still
All Classical Portland Program Director John Pitman shares his latest review of a new collection of works by William Grant Still.
Regarded by many as the most important black classical composer of the 20th century, and indeed called “Dean of Afro-American Composers” in his lifetime, William Grant Still (1895-1978) remains an important figure in the history of American music. He composed over 200 works, including symphonies, ballets, operas, choral works, art songs and chamber music, and broke social and artistic barriers that helped pave the way for those who followed. Despite his many accomplishments, prejudices left a number of works unrecorded, even long after his death. Fortunately, Naxos of America is taking steps to right this wrong, with their latest release “Summerland,” featuring several world premieres.
John Pitman recently spoke with Avlana Eisenberg, music director of the Boston Chamber Symphony, and renowned public radio journalist Celeste Headlee. Headlee’s maternal grandparents were William Grant Still and pianist Verna Arvey. She holds Bachelors and Masters of Vocal Performance degrees, and has written a thematic catalogue of her grandfather’s music.
Eisenberg shares the story of how this recording came about, while Headlee shares fond recollections of watching Still work, as well as his encounters with artistic bias and racism in American society, which nevertheless did not deter him from breaking barriers and creating beautiful, exciting, and original music depicting the lives of all Americans.