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New Recording Initiative Spotlights Black Composers

Collage of headshots
Scott Yoo, conductor | Eleanor Alberga, composer | James Lee III, composer

In recent seasons, the Minnesota Orchestra has intentionally built its concert programs to feature more works by composers of African, Middle Eastern, Latin, Indigenous and Asian descent, exploring music both contemporary and historic. These efforts took an exciting new turn in early October 2021 with a week of recording sessions in collaboration with YourClassical Minnesota Public Radio featuring works by five Black composers, the results of which will become part of a comprehensive online database called the African Diaspora Music Project (ADMP) that will facilitate future programming by other orchestras.

In a series of sessions conducted by Scott Yoo, the Orchestra made the first-ever professional recordings of five works by Eleanor Alberga, Margaret Bonds, Ulysses Kay, James Lee III and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. In conjunction with the sessions, two distinguished guest speakers visited Orchestra Hall to address musicians and staff. Conductor James Blachly, co-director of the ADMP, outlined the years-long effort to research the needs of the musical community and bring the project to life. Dr. Kira Thurman, assistant professor of history and Germanic languages and literature at the University of Michigan, delivered a seminar drawing on her research into the experiences of Black musicians in the German classical tradition, as well as the complex issues of racism and exclusion within the broader classical music world.

The week’s events were an outgrowth of an organization-wide anti-racist learning project co-led by Minnesota Orchestra musicians Sam Bergman and Susie Park, both of whom are members of the Orchestra’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. Bergman explained how the recordings will pave the way for future performances. “The hope on our end is, first off, for the featured composers who are living to be able to use these recordings however they wish, at no cost, to advance their own work and careers, and for the heirs of those deceased to be able to promote the music of their relations. But we’re also very much hoping that other orchestras will use these recordings as references in deciding how these works can fit into their own concert programs. Often, works that are unrecorded aren’t programmed just because no one’s sure how they’ll sound!”

Although the October recording sessions weren’t open to the public, the recordings are now freely available on the Minnesota Orchestra’s YouTube channel, and will be shared widely on stations of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media. Audience may also hear selected works performed at Orchestra Hall in upcoming seasons as future programming plans come into focus. In addition, similar recording sessions will be held in future seasons. For this first year of the project, the Orchestra’s Artistic Advisory Committee made the decision to focus efforts on Black composers, working in consultation with conductor Scott Yoo and the living composers involved, but as the project evolves and develops, future seasons may incorporate works by composers of other racial backgrounds.

Listen to the Recordings Below

Video: Eleanor Alberga - Tower

Video: Margaret Bonds - Montgomery Variations (1964)

Video: Ulysses Kay - Concerto For Orchestra

Video: James Lee III - Beyond Rivers of Vision

Video: Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson - Worship: A Concert Overture for Orchestra