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Magnificent Seven Score At Carnegie Hall

By Deardra Shuler

It was more than evident that the late concert tenor, William Brown, was beloved by his fellow artists when musical homage was paid to him in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall by seven ingenious and enormously talented African American composers last week. Songs sang by soprano Louise Toppin; piano played by Ann Sear and Joseph Joubert and Sanford Allen on violin added luster to the evening.

William (Bill) Brown, who died of a heart attack at the age of 66, was an active performer who sang with several premiere orchestras and opera companies. Soprano Louise Toppin presented the world premiere of Aspects of Bill, a collection of 21st Century art songs; new works written for voice and piano by T.J. Anderson, William Banfield, Donal Fox, Leroy Henkins, Alvin Singleton, Julius Williams and Olly Wilson in tribute to Mr. Brown who had at one time showcased each composers work via his remarkable vocal talent.

“All of the composers in the evenings program wrote songs, operas and oratories premiered by Bill Brown,” wrote Ms. Toppin, who commissioned the music in conjunction with the non-profit organization, Videmus. She continued, “I wanted to create a tribute, a new piece in his memory. The songs are individual and personal, musical and texturally different yet each captures a snapshot of this amazing, multifaceted singer,” said Ms. Toppins of Bill Brown. Ms. Toppins herself has received critical acclaim for her operatic, orchestral and oratorio performances in the United States and throughout the world. She has performed in operas ranging from Mozart’s Don Giovanni to Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. She has delighted audiences when appearing in Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha and is currently in her second season touring in Gershwin on Broadway with pianist Leon Bates and vocalist Cedric Cannon, LaRose Saxon and Sam McKelton.

Compositions played for Aspects of Bill were: A Sonic Language by T.J. Anderson; She Responded, Leroy Jenkins; Africa, Julius Williams; It’s All Good My Brother, William Banfield; There Is A Need, Olly Wilson; Brown Gone, Alvin Singleton; and Peace Out, Donal Fox. Also a piece by Adolphus Cunningham Hailstork entitled Who Is Sylvia? Each composition reflected and echoed the thoughts, loves, personality, aspects, and reflections of tenor William Brown.

Composers Gary Smart, performs, composes, and improvises the music of Americana, world music, and jazz as well as classical. Dwight Andrews has composed and arranged for the theater and film. He has served as a sideman for numerous jazz and new music recordings. William C. Banfield is a composer and jazz recording artist whose works have been commissioned, performed, and recorded by many orchestras. T.J. Anderson has written opera, symphonies, chamber music, vocal music, and pieces for band. Leroy Jenkins formed the Revolutionary Ensemble in 1970 and toured internationally recording 5 albums. He was commissioned to write the opera/ballet, Mother of Three Songs for the Munich Bienale New Music Theater Festival. Julius P. Williams is an award-winning conductor, composer, and recording artist who has created dozens of works for virtually every genre of contemporary classical performance which include: opera, ballet, orchestra, chamber, chorus and solo voice, dance, musical theatre and film. Olly Wilson has published scholarly articles on African American music and conducted numerous contemporary music concerts. Alvin Singleton has amassed numerous awards throughout his compositional life. He has composed music for theatre, orchestra, solo instruments, and a variety of chamber ensembles. Donal Fox is internationally acclaimed as a composer, pianist, and improviser in both the jazz and classical fields. Mr. Fox’s exciting and innovative “Jazz Duet Series” has included concerts, recordings, and collaborations with many outstanding musicians. Adolphus Cunningham Hailstork writes in a variety of forms and styles. His work includes symphonic pieces and tone poems for orchestra; a piano concerto, numerous chamber works and instrumental combination duos. He was proclaimed a Cultural Laureate of the State of Virginia

It was clear that love went into each note, as the extraordinary beauty of each composition brought forth the tender spirit of the evening. A spirit so transcending and so filled with enchantment it’s not hard to imagine that though Mr. Brown could not be there in mortal form, he was certainly there in spirit. The evening was imbued with the creative genius of these magnificent seven whose diversity of age, background, and musical genres gave witness to the broad range of African American ingenuity and expression. These outstanding pieces expressed the magnitude of each composers respect, regard, and admiration for Mr. Brown.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the recital,” claimed reviewer Emily Leinster. “The performance was exceptional and it only served as proof that African American creativity transcends on many levels. These outstanding works paid homage to Mr. Brown but it also paid tribute to the wonderful genius and brilliance of African American talent. This talent was clearly highlighted tonight through these ingenious African American composers and their incredible compositions. It was truly something to behold.” Ms. Leinster’s assessment was certainly supported via the presence of many musical luminaries and aficionados including Henry Threadgill, Stanley Crouch, Carmen Moore, jazz musicians Pheeroan akLaff and James Weidman, and impresario Thomas Buckner, among others.

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