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Boston history through a Black musical lens

Boston Conservatory Orchestra celebrates Black composers

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Boston history through a Black musical lens
Boston Conservatory Orchestra PHOTO: COURTESY OF BOSTON CONSERVATORY AT BERKLEE

On Saturday, April 16, the Boston Conservatory Orchestra will take to the Symphony Hall stage to celebrate Black composers past and present. Compositions by Boston Conservatory faculty and alumni will be performed, but the repertoire is primarily centered on the work of Adolphus Hailstork, who celebrates his 81st birthday the day after the concert.

Notably, the concert will offer the New England debut of Hailstork’s work “Crispus Attucks,” which has been performed only one other time since its inception, as well as the world premiere of “Answering the Call,” a work commissioned by the Conservatory and centering on the Black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. Both compositions have strong ties to Boston’s history.

Berklee College of Music Assistant Chair of Voice Philip Lima, who will perform as a soloist in “Crispus Attucks,” says, “Dr. Hailstork has written this piece with very large musical gestures. It’s a grand piece. Some people might think of it as the apotheosis of Crispus Attucks — here’s a piece that elevates him to this almost grand, mythic stature. But it’s really more a celebration of the desire for and taking of action for liberty, for social justice, for the right of people to be who they are and to stand up against tyranny.”

In addition to these important works by Hailstork, the concert will feature compositions by Quinn Mason and by Bill Banfield, Berklee professor emeritus of Africana Studies, as well as a world premiere by Boston Conservatory at Berklee alum Stefan Thompson. The program was conceptualized by conductor Bruce Hangen, professor of orchestral studies for Boston Conservatory at Berklee. Matthew Marsit, chair of instrumental studies for Boston Conservatory at Berklee, notes the importance of students and faculty performing on stage together. “It reflects that this a community of incredibly high-achieving artists,” he says.

By incorporating works by established Black composers and young musicians just beginning their professional careers, the concert points to a musical legacy that’s being both continuously brought to light and continuously built upon.

The concert takes place April 16 at 2 p.m. at Symphony Hall. Tickets are $17 for the general public, free for current Berklee students and staff, and offered at a $12 discounted rate for Berklee alumni, senior citizens, students and WGBH members.

“When it comes to Black composers, who for such a long time were systematically excluded, we have a great opportunity to correct that mistake of exclusion,” says Lima. “There’s plenty good room and it’s time, as the spiritual says, for us to choose our seats and sit down. I hope folks walk away with their appetites having been excited for hearing works by Black composers.”

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