The Utah Philharmonia normally stays within the parameters of standard repertoire. But once in a while, the ensemble breaks the mold and wanders outside its comfort zone.

That’s the case with its next two concerts.

On Monday the Philharmonia, under director Robert Baldwin, will perform a special concert commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “This concert will have a unique format,” Baldwin told Reichel Recommends. The program will encompass solo performances, jazz and poetry by Harlem Renaissance authors and Maya Angelou. “It’s going to be an artistic expression of Martin Luther King Day,” Baldwin said.

Duke Ellington

The major musical work on the program is Duke Ellington’s Three Black Kings. “Ellington is one of the great underappreciated composers of the 20th century,” Baldwin said. He added that he considers Ellington to be on an equal footing with George Gershwin and Aaron Copland. “His impact was huge, and throughout his life he wanted to legitimize his art.”

Ellington was working on Three Black Kings when he died in 1974. Several different versions of the work exist. “The orchestral version we’re using was done by Luther Henderson.”

Each of the movements is devoted to a specific person: the first movement depicts Balthazar, one of the three magi; the second movement deals with King Solomon; and the final movement celebrates Martin Luther King. “The opening movement is primitive, almost Stravinsky-like in places,” Baldwin said. “The slow second movement is sensual, and the last movement has a gospel feel to it.”

Three Black Kings won’t be played straight through. Instead, Baldwin has opted to break it up, playing the first movement at the start of the concert and the second movement in the middle. The third movement will close out the evening. “It’s a programmatic piece and it works well like that,” he said.

Other musical selections include Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, played by Ubeeng Kueq, and the “Cumbia y Congo” movement from Danzas de Panama by African-American composer William Grant Still.

Also, the Ambassadors Jazz Combo will perform Herbie Hancock’s I Have a Dream in an arrangement by U. director of jazz studies Russell Schmidt

Rounding out the program will be Daniel Tuutau reading poetry by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and Maya Angelou.

* * *

The following week, Baldwin and the Philharmonia will give the Utah premiere of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s song cycle Penelope.

Shara Worden (Photo Credit: Julien Burgeois)

Inspired by the Odyssey, the piece is a meditation on memory, identity and what it means to come home. The text is by playwright Ellen McLaughlin. Singing it will be performance artist Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond. She’ll be accompanied by the U.’s graduate string quartet and three graduate student members of the Philharmonia. There will also be drums and electronics played by musicians brought in from New York.

“We’re really excited about this,” Baldwin said. “This is really out of the box for us.”

And the students have been having a great time with it. “They love it,” Baldwin said. “As instrumentalists they need to be flexible to do a lot of different types of things. This gives them the opportunity to do that.”

Also on the program is another piece by Snider, Disquiet, which will also be receiving its local premiere. “Stylistically, this is completely different than Penelope,” Baldwin said. “Penelope has a contemporary sound. Disquiet is lush and obviously influenced by Samuel Barber.”

Baldwin and his ensemble will be also performing this concert at Weber State University, as part of the school’s Cultural Affairs series.

  • What: Martin Luther King Day Celebration Concert: An Evening of Music and Poetry
  • Venue: Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah
  • Time and Date: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20
  • Tickets: $10 general, $6 seniors/students/U. faculty and staff, free for U. students
  • Phone: 801-581-7100
  • Web: www.kingtix.com
  • What: Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Penelope, featuring guest vocalist Shara Worden
  • Venue: Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah
  • Time and Date: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29
  • Tickets: $10 general, $6 seniors/students/U. faculty and staff, free for U. students
  • Phone: 801-581-7100
  • Web: www.kingtix.com
  • ALSO:
  • Venue: Allred Theater, Val A. Browning Center for the Performing Arts, Weber State University
  • Time and Date: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28
  • Tickets: $20 general, $18 seniors and students
  • Phone: 800-978-8457
  • Web: www.weberstatetickets.com
This entry was posted in Articles, Concert Previews by Edward Reichel. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Reichel

Edward Reichel, author, writer and composer, has been covering the classical music scene in Utah since 1997. For many years he served as the primary music critic for the Deseret News. He has also written for a number of publications, including Chamber Music Magazine, OPERA Magazine, 15 Bytes, Park City Magazine and Salt Lake Magazine. He holds a Ph.D. in composition from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He can be reached at ed.reichel@gmail.com. Reichel Recommends is also on Twitter @ReichelArts.

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