Friday’s annual “Classical Roots” concert was a first for me personally, and such a celebratory event. The broad repertoire, the variety of soloists and the honoring of African Americans on International Women’s Day made it a magical night for all who attended.
The Classical Roots Community Mass Choir, led by William Henry Caldwell, heralded the evening’s program with “The Black National Anthem.” Truly every voice was singing, creating joy and harmony from the onset.
This was followed by a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra premiere, conducted by John Morris Russell, of the Finale from Symphony No. 1 by Florence Price, the first African American to enroll in the New England Conservatory of Music. Price’s music, lost and recently found in her abandoned home, has renewed interest in her work. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the uplifting melody, beginning with the entire symphony and then repeated by sections of the orchestra, returning with the full orchestra for an explosive ending.
“Troubled Water” was entirely different from Price’s work, although composer Margaret Bonds studied with Price. Bond was the first African American to solo with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “Troubled Waters” based on the spiritual “Wade in the Water,” and was a mix of jazz and gospel, conveying emotion through “soldiering on” with a positive ending as good ultimately triumphs over evil.
CSYO Nouveau Chamber Players, an ensemble of talented pre-professional musicians from communities under-represented in classical music, played Sonia Morales-Matos’ Fiesta No. 1 for String Ensemble, an uplifting Puerto Rican piece that made its world premiere this evening with Morales-Matos present and enjoying its debut. Also before intermission, the choir sang “The Word Was God,” with that message traveling throughout various sections and soloists. A huge crescendo created a powerful ending from such a magnificent set of voices.
The second half of the evening was every bit as strong, with the audience standing in ovation of what they heard several times. “Phenomenal Woman” from “I Rise: Women in Song” by Reena Esmail was set to the words of Maya Angelou’s poem of the same name. At first, the poem was read, and then it was sung with backup from the Community Mass Choir. This was followed by “Soul Divas Medley,” a half dozen melodies, ending with “Dancing in the Street.” By then, people were clapping and moving in the seats of Springer Auditorium. Vocalist and Grammy winner Lisa Fischer made her entrance, joining the Soul Divas and singing three songs: “That Thing Called Love,” “Feeling Good” and “Natural Woman.” Fischer’s powerful voice, which had to span at least three different octaves, was felt so strongly that during “Natural Woman,” you could’ve heard a pin drop.
The concert ended with Louise Shropshire’s “If My Jesus Wills, I’ll Overcome Someday,” joined by the full Cincinnati Symphony orchestra, the Community Mass Choir and all of the vocalists and soloists throughout the night. The unity in the auditorium created a mighty connection, showing the power of the arts to bond our diverse yet complementary roots together.
Kathy DeBrosse is Vice President, Marketing & Engagement at ArtsWave.