Saturday, July 15, 2017

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's "Hiawatha's Wedding Feast," his once world-famous cantata, returns to the Windy City in November 2017.


Samuel Coleridge-Taylor as a young man.
by David Katz, founding music director and principal conductor
of the Chicago Bar Association Symphony

Anglo-African composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was black—his mother was English, his father from Sierra Leone—the first classical composer of African descent to be recognized internationally for his music.

Coleridge-Taylor achieved fame overnight with the premiere of Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, his setting of lines from Longfellow's epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha, which premiered at the Royal College of Music in November 1898, when the composer was just 22 years old. Hiawatha proved a sensation, was soon performed hundreds of times, selling hundreds of thousands of copies across the globe.

Because of the success his Hiawatha cantata garnered for him, Coleridge-Taylor toured the U.S. three times, meeting President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House and conducting the work in many places, including St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Boston, Washington, and in Chicago.

Racial prejudice being what it was (and sometimes, unfortunately, still is) it is perhaps not surprising that the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor disappeared into the void in the years following his early death at the age of 37. But for a time, during the first decades of the last century, as the article on Wikipedia states, "Hiawatha's Wedding Feast became so famous in Britain that for many years it rivaled Handel's Messiah and Mendelssohn's Elijah in the public's affections."

The composer in his studio
Thirty-five years ago, I conducted the first Hartford performance of Hiawatha's Wedding Feast heard in that city in fifty years. The moment seems right for this charming, tuneful, gentle and fragrantly themed choral-orchestral work to again be heard live in Chicago, where I hope it will capture some of the excitement and joy the work once generated in a very different time. I am proud that the CBASO and CBA Chorus will be the ones to present its latest revival, joined by a tenor soloist selected from The American Prize, and it is my plan for us to work with colleagues from the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College to bring additional attention and additional scholarship to our performance of the music of this unjustly forgotten composer.

On our November concert, I will pair Hiawatha's Wedding Feast with Dvorak's New World Symphony.

On Coleridige-Taylor's headstone near London are inscribed these words by poet (and the composer's close friend) Albert Noyes: Too young to die, his great simplicity, his happy courage in an alien world, his gentleness, made all that knew him love him.

I hope, after our encounter with his music, both audience and musicians will discover we feel the same way.


A short documentary about the composer on You Tube, narrated by his daughter and including excerpts from the cantata:

The Wikipedia Article:

A good recent performance on YouTube:
(The recording includes all of the cantatas that make up SCT's "Song of Hiawatha." Hiawatha's Wedding Feast is first, running about 30 minutes.)


The Artistic Leadership Team for HIAWATHA'S WEDDING FEAST

DAVID KATZ, Founding Music Director and Principal Conductor 
of The Chicago Bar Association Symphony Orchestra
David Katz
David Katz is one of the most versatile performing artists currently working in the Chicago area.
Now celebrating his 32nd season as the founding music director of The Chicago Bar Association
Symphony Orchestra, Katz has led Chicagoland’s unique all-lawyer ensemble nearly two hundred times during his long tenure, in repertoire ranging from Trial By Jury, (the first performances of Gilbert & Sullivan’s courtroom operetta ever to be presented in a working courtroom with a cast and orchestra made up entirely of legal professionals) to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, as well as major orchestral and choral-orchestral works by Brahms, Britten, Bruckner, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Poulenc, Respighi, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky and others.

In 2011, Katz and the CBASO, joined by the CBA Chorus and guest choirs, nearly three hundred musicians in all, presented Orff's Carmina Burana to a capacity crowd at Orchestra Hall, Chicago, in celebration of the CBASO's 25th season. The ensemble returned to Symphony Center in spring 2015 for Something Wonderful!, an all-Rodgers & Hammerstein concert.

David Katz has led more than sixty orchestras and opera companies throughout the U.S., Canada
and Mexico as guest conductor, including concerts with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the
Mississippi Symphony and the Corpus Christi Symphony. Former associate conductor of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra under Margaret Hillis, and for twelve years music director of the Adrian Symphony Orchestra and co-founder of OPERA!Lenawee in Michigan, Katz is currently artistic director of Hat City Music Theater, Inc., in Connecticut, where he is founder and chief judge of The American Prize national nonprofit competitions in the performing arts. In 2016, Katz was honored by Musical America as one of only thirty “Top Professionals of the Year” nationally for his work creating and sustaining The American Prize. TAP has awarded more than $40,000 in prize money to performing artists nationwide since its creation.

A professional playwright, actor and arts advocate, Katz tours internationally in his acclaimed one-man play, MUSE of FIRE, about the secrets of conducting. He has presented the play scores of times throughout the Midwest, Northeast, and in Canada, including an extended engagement in Chicago. Two books by David Katz, Muse of Fire: A Symposium on the Art of Conducting, and Bruck Stories, a companion volume, will be published by Del Gatto Press next year. Katz is also at work on Wonderful Counsellor, a memoir about three decades of music-making with Chicago lawyers.

David Katz holds baccalaureate and master’s degrees in composition and conducting from the Hartt School of Music of the University of Hartford. He was a student of the great Lithuanian maestro, Vytautas Marijosius, and was the first in the school’s history to be awarded an Artist’s Diploma in Conducting. Katz also studied for five years under Charles Bruck at the Pierre Monteux School for Conductors, in Maine, and later founded Opera Maine, the Monteux Opera Festival, and the Chamber Orchestra of Maine. He has partnered such artists as Itzhak Perlman and Misha Dichter in concert and has worked with some of the greatest twentieth century composers, including William Schuman, Hans Werner Henze, Milton Babbitt and Elliott Carter. Katz’s own compositions are published by Carl Fischer and G. Schirmer, among others.

STEPHEN BLACKWELDER, Director of The The Chicago Bar Association Chorus
Stephen Blackwelder
Particularly noted for his fluent work with singers and choral groups, Stephen Blackwelder is currently celebrating his twelfth season as director of the DePaul Community Chorus. Under his direction, the DCC has grown to 150 members and recently collaborated with the Oistrakh Symphony of Chicago in successful performances of Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Bruckner’s Mass in D Minor, Haydn’s Mass in Time of War and Brahms’ Requiem. Now in his seventeenth season as Music Director of the Waukegan Symphony Orchestra, his 2017-18 schedule includes four subscription concerts with that ensemble, three concerts with the DCC and three concerts as newly appointed Director of the Chicago Bar Association Chorus. Stephen very much looks forward to collaborating with Maestro Katz and the spirited members of the CBA Chorus and Symphony Orchestra.

Choral music has always been an active component of Blackwelder’s musical life and he has led performances of the Downer’s Grove Oratorio Society, Camerata Singers of Lake Forest, Waukegan Festival Chorus and numerous university, church and temple ensembles. Formerly the conductor of the early music ensemble Ars Musica Chicago, he led that group in numerous concerts and recordings over 8 concert seasons. As an accomplished professional singer, he performed frequently under such conductors as Robert Shaw, James Levine, Sir Georg Solti, Claudio Abbado and Margaret Hillis while a member of the Aspen Chamber Choir and Chicago Symphony Chorus.

A former Music Director of the Hinsdale Chamber Orchestra, he continues to attract and delight audiences with fresh, innovative programming and an informal and appealing concert style. Highlights of past seasons include performances with celebrated flautist Carol Wincenc, Metropolitan Opera soprano Nancy Gustafson, Ruben Gonzalez and John Sharp of the Chicago Symphony, and the NIU Philharmonic with soloists from the famed Vermeer Quartet. Guest conducting engagements include the Richmond, Bremerton and Sacramento Symphonies, as well as the Chicago String Ensemble, where he was praised for his “warmly expressive” conducting by Robert Marsh of the Chicago Sun-Times.

A native of North Carolina, Blackwelder was the first undergraduate to receive a Bachelor of Music in conducting and voice from UNC-Chapel Hill. During his studies for the Master of Music degree at Northwestern University, he assisted Grigg Fountain with the Alice Millar Chapel Choir in addition to his duties with orchestral and opera groups. Professional study includes four seasons with the renowned Aspen Music Festival and master classes with Sir Georg Solti, Max Rudolf and Erich Leinsdorf.

MAREK RACHELSKI, Resident Conductor of The Chicago Bar Association Symphony Orchestra
Marek Rachelski
Newly appointed Resident Conductor of the Chicago Bar Association Symphony Orchestra, Marek Rachelski enjoys a rich variety in his musical life as conductor, pianist/harpsichordist and as collaborative artist in recital. Marek holds degrees from Northwestern University, Wayne State University and the Academy of Music in Prague HAMU. He has appeared with orchestras in the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Canada and the USA, and has served on the faculties of Loyola University and De Paul University. He is the Artistic Director of Musica Lumina Ensemble and Conductor/Founder of the Niles Metropolitan Chorus. In four seasons the NMC/ML has performed major works of the repertoire: Requiems of Mozart, Faure, Rutter; the Magnificats of Pärt, Bach and Pergolesi; Haydn’s Creation, Rossini’s Stabat Mater, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, a yearly Handel’s Messiah, and the St. John Passion of J. S. Bach.

Past Music Director of Opera Las Vegas, he accompanied aria recitals and conducted complete staged performances of Puccini’s La Boheme, Donizetti’s L'elisir d'amore, Mollicone’s The Face on the Barroom Floor and a Puccini 150th celebrating operas of Puccini including excerpts from La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Manon Lescaut, Turandot, La Fanciulla del West, La Rondine, and Gianni Schicchi. He founded the Las Vegas Diocesan Cathedral Choir and the Las Vegas Peoples Valley Chorus which performed Requiems by Faure, Rutter and Brahms, Handel’s Judas Maccabeus, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Mozart’s Coronation Mass and Vespers, Rossini’s Stabat Mater, Vivaldi Juditha Triumphans and a yearly Handel’s Messiah.

As Assistant Conductor of the Elgin Symphony he conducted Young People’s Concerts and performed with Victor Borge; he was also Music Director of the Valley Civic Orchestra and conducted the Elgin Area Youth Orchestras. A composer of over 100 works, he was commissioned in 1989 for a setting of Psalm 145 for the Papal Mass in Detroit and for a Magnificat by the Lira Singers for their 25th Anniversary. In addition to awards from the Pi Kappa Lambda National Music Honor Society, he was presented with the Pulaski Award for his contributions to Polish American Culture. Rachelski enjoys collaboration as recital accompanist for a rich variety of musical artists, both instrumental and vocal.