Professor Rescues Piece of African American Music History

September 21, 2018

Drew University Professor of Music and resident composer, Dr. Trevor Weston, has reconstructed a piano concerto for a symphonic orchestra. The concerto, called the Piano Concerto in One Movement, composed by Florence Beatrice Price, was originally written in the 1930s. What makes this concerto so significant is that Price was the first African-American woman whose work was performed by a major orchestra. In a style that was unique from other contemporary American composers of her time, Price avoided the influences of the ever popular jazz touches and instead elected to use more of the modal contour of African-American spirituals. One of her contemporaries, George Gershwin, who has composed such iconic songs as Rhapsody In Blue and An American In Paris, is one such composer who elected to use jazz influences in order to create a more “American” sound. Price’s concerto instead features more influences from Dvořák’s New World Symphony.

 

Weston’s work has already received a wide array of praise from its debuts in Chicago, which was Price’s home for most of her life, and New York. Dr. Weston was commended for recapturing a small section of African-American music history which was previously lost to time since the vast majority of Prices’ scores were either lost or incomplete for several decades. This provided Weston with the unique challenge of not only orchestrating the concerto but also “to orchestrate it in her voice.” Aside from making the piece remain true to the original sounds and stylistics of Price, it also had the challenge of “[taking] the dialogue and story [of a play], but...not knowing who’s saying what.”

 

The New Jersey premiere of Weston’s reconstructed score will be on Nov. 29 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. It will be followed up with encore performances on Nov. 30 and Dec. 2 at NJPAC in Newark. In addition, it will also be performed on Dec. 1 at the State Theatre of New Jersey in New Brunswick. Also featured during the NJSO’s Rhapsody in Blue & The Firebird program will be Milhaud’s La Création du monde, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Stravinsky’s Suite from The Firebird.
 

 

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