When most of us hear the words "black American composer," we think of specific types of music -- jazz, popular and show tunes, and gospel. Yet a strong corps of black composers has been at work in the realm of concert music as well. To point up and celebrate that fact, the National Museum of American History's Program in Black American Culture decided to sponsor a series of events devoted to these artists and their creations.
Friday night at Baird Auditorium, an enthusiastic audience found itself steeped in a wide-ranging program of 20th-century vocal and instrumental music by an array of performers. The spirited pianist Thomas J. Flagg offered up elegantly spare pieces by Mark Fax, and dove into George Walker's moody and tempestuous Sonata No. 2. Soprano Nelda Ormond roared through John Carter's modernistic interpretations of well-known spirituals, and baritone Rawn Spearman lent his sinuous voice to songs by Walker, Howard Swanson and Dorothy Rudd Moore, several of them set to the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes.
The Trio Pro Viva -- flutist D. Antoinette Handy, cellist Ulysses Kirksey and pianist Russell Wilson -- ventured into the most contemporary territory with their rendition of Fredrick Tillis' dissonant "Music for Alto Flute, Cello, and Piano." Of the 10 works performed by the Evelyn White Chamber Ensemble, it was James Furman's quick and verbally tricky "Hehlehlooyuh" that caught this listener's fancy.
The high point of this long evening was the world premiere of Ulysses S. Kay's "Tromba," a haunting and lyrical suite for trumpet and piano, sensitively interpreted by Fred Irby III and Ronald Tymus.