A Celebration of American Music is a special program of piano and piano chamber music. It will air on KLRE Classical 90.5 Sunday, June 28, 2015 at 7 p.m. and again Friday, July 3, 2015 at 7 p.m. Audio of the program will be accessible on this page following the first broadcast.
The music on A Celebration of American Music was recorded live, in-concert at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall. This special broadcast features selections by gifted American composers. Each of these works was given its regional premiere at UALR in the performances you’re hearing today.
New England native Gwyneth Walker is well-known to audiences in Arkansas. She has been commissioned by the Arkansas Symphony’s Quapaw Quartet, as well as the Arkansas Chamber Singers. A graduate of Brown University and the Hartt School of Music, she is a former faculty member of the Oberlin College Conservatory. After a 14-year career in academia, she shifted her focus to composing full-time. She is co-founder and former director of the Consortium of Vermont Composers, and the year 2000 recipient of the "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Vermont Arts Council. Her catalog of works includes over 150 commissioned works for orchestra, band, chorus and chamber ensembles.
The first selection on the broadcast program is Walker’s piano trio, A Vision of Hills, a reflective work of great beauty, composed in 2002. In her notes for the score of this single-movement work, Walker wrote: “A Vision of Hills is an extended exploration of the traditional Irish hymn tune, “Be Thou My Vision.”. . .The opening patterns in the piano might be heard as the first light appearing over the hills in the morning. The violin and cello are marked, ‘as a voice calling out across a valley.’ . . . The final statement of the theme is placed in a 2/2 meter to emphasize the triumphant nature of the hymn tune. This is intended to reflect the strength of faith, and of the hills.”
Performers are Linda Holzer, piano; Sandra McDonald, violin; Rafael León, cello, in concert at UALR.
Florence Price (1887-1953), a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, was a pioneer in the field of American classical music in the early twentieth century. She became the first black woman composer to earn an international reputation for her work, and was among the first American composers to integrate her Negro heritage with Western art music. Price's father, Dr. James H. Smith, was a dentist, and her mother, Florence Gulliver, was a school teacher with some musical training who was her daughter’s first piano teacher. Young Florence Smith was an excellent student, and graduated from Capitol High School in Little Rock in 1903 as the valedictorian of her class. She traveled to Boston and enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1906. This institution was among the few professional music schools in the country that accepted students regardless of race. She taught on the music faculties of historically black colleges in Georgia and Arkansas for several years.
In 1912 Florence Smith married attorney Thomas J. Price and the couple settled in Little Rock, where Thomas Price was partner in a law firm. His law firm was involved in several contentious civil rights cases, including the cases following the Elaine Race Massacre in 1919. The Prices decided to move north to Chicago in 1926. Having lived in Boston during her student days at the New England Conservatory, Florence Price quickly found ways to take advantage of Chicago's cultural riches and the thriving artistic contingent of the urban black community. Among the pieces she composed in Chicago was the formidable Piano Sonata in E Minor (1932). Shortly after that, she won the Wanamaker Award for her 1st symphony, which was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933 as part of the World’s Fair, known as “A Century of Progress.” The performance was attended by First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who wrote about it in her column, “My Day.” Price’s heroic, virtuoso Piano Sonata in E Minor is featured on A Celebration of American Music program. Performer is Linda Holzer, piano, in concert at UALR.
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich was named 1999 “Composer of the Year” by Musical America, and holder of the first endowed Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall. Zwilich, a native of Miami, Florida, studied at Florida State University and Juilliard, where her major teachers were Roger Sessions and Eliott Carter. A gifted violinist, she also trained with Richard Burgin and Ivan Galamian, and performed as a member of the American Symphony under Leopold Stokowski before becoming a full-time composer.
Zwilich first attained national prominence in 1983, when she became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in music. The catalogue of her works includes a rich variety of orchestral pieces and chamber music, the fruits of commissions from such diverse groups as the Chicago Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Chamber Music Society of the Lincoln Center, the New York City Ballet, and Carnegie Hall. Michael Walsh, writing for Time magazine, described her style this way: “Zwilich writes in a disarmingly open style. On the page her music looks as clear as Brahms’; to the ear it sounds as bold and vigorous as Shostakovich or Prokofieff. But it always remains her own.”
Zwilich’s poignant Lament is featured on the program. Ellen Zwilich composed Lament in memory of a friend who passed away from breast cancer. The piece is part of a special volume of contemporary piano music published at the turn of the 21st century, The Carnegie Hall Millennium Piano Book, which Zwilich oversaw compilation of while holding the Carnegie Hall Composer’s Chair.
Performer is Linda Holzer, piano, in concert at UALR.
The closing selection on the broadcast program is Gwyneth Walker’s piano trio, New World Dances. The piece is comprised of 4 movements: 1. Up-Tempo 2. Slow Dance 3. Soft-Shoe 4. Rapid Fire. Performers are Linda Holzer, piano; Sandra McDonald, violin; Rafael León, cello, in concert at UALR.
About the Artists
Pianist Linda Holzer is a professor of music at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. An active soloist and chamber musician, Dr. Holzer has been heard in concert in 29 states, including at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and New York Public Radio Station WNYC-FM, as well as abroad at Qingdao University in mainland China, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the Palffy Palace in Bratislava, Slovakia. An advocate for contemporary music, she has participated in numerous premieres, and her concert recordings have been broadcast internationally. A native of Chicago, she holds degrees in piano performance from Northwestern University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Florida State University. She served as chair of the Committee on the Pedagogy Student for the 2007 and 2009 National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy in Chicago, and is an active member of the Network of Music Career Development Officers (NETMCDO). She is a founding member of the duo Mariposa with violinist Sandra McDonald. She also enjoys writing, and is the author of articles published in Piano & Keyboard, Clavier, American Music Teacher, and Piano Pedagogy Forum.
Violinist Sandra McDonald is assistant concertmaster of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. A veteran symphonic performer, she is starting her 38th season with the orchestra in Fall 2015. She is a founding member of Mariposa with Linda Holzer, and also performs as first violinist in the Da Capo Quartet. In 2009, she was the recipient of a Governor's Arts Award in the category Individual Artist. Her teaching career involves maintaining an active violin studio at "Adventures in the Arts,” a fine arts academy run at Pulaski Heights Methodist Church in Little Rock. Additionally, she serves on the summer faculties of the Wildwood Academy for Music and the Arts, and the Adult Amateur Chamber Music Camp in Little Rock. She is certified as a Suzuki violin teacher, having trained with Suzuki pedagogues Allen Lieb, Alice Joy Lewis, Linda Steig, Nancy Jackson, Barbara Barber, and Thomas Wermuth, and her students include both Suzuki and traditional students. A native of Ohio, she holds the BM degree from Bowling Green State University, and pursued graduate study at the University of Arizona-Tucson and the Aspen Music Festival. Well-known to audiences throughout Arkansas for her collaborative participation in a wide range of musical events and ensembles, Ms. McDonald served as second violin of the Quapaw Quartet for 11 years and was a founding member of that ensemble. She was formerly an Adjunct Instructor of Violin at Hendrix College for 7 years, and a guest clinician at the Suzuki Institute in Atlanta.
Cellist Rafael León is in his 31st year with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, having been the principal cellist for the first 20 years and later as section player. He was born in Mexico City, Mexico into a family of musicians. His grandfather, Fausto León, gave him his first cello lessons. Mr. León holds degrees from the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City, where he studied with Adolfo Odnoposoff, and the University of Mexico, where he studied with Sally Van Den Berg. He has performed as a member of the Opera Orchestra of Mexico, the National Symphony of Mexico, the Morelia International Festival, and the Missouri Symphony Society. For 7 years, he taught during the summer at the Breckenridge Music Institute in Colorado, where he also performed as a member of the BMI Orchestra and the Blue River Quartet. He has taught on the faculties of UALR, Ouachita Baptist University, and Hendrix College, and currently maintains a private studio of cello students.