The Glenn Korff School of Music presents a vocal recital “Words Like Freedom” at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30 in Kimball Recital Hall.
The concert is free and open to the public. All the works on the concert are composed by Black artists.
The performers include Jamie Reimer, the Richard H. Larson Distinguished professor of music (Voice), and guest artists Byron Jones, baritone, and Stacie Haneline, piano.
The program includes two world premieres: “Words Like Freedom” by Shawn Okpebholo and “Undoing Poems” by André Myers.
“My research has always been in the music of Robert Owens, who is a black American composer,” Reimer said. “Because of my association with his music, I’ve been connected with other associations and workshops around the country. In 2017, at the African American Art Song Alliance Conference, Shawn Okpebholo won the Robert Owens Composition Award so, of course, I made it a point to meet him. I knew I wanted Shawn to be a part of a project that I was launching. Robert set 46 of Langston Hughes’ poems from the volume ‘Fields of Wonder.’ But there were three sets of poems that he did not set before he passed. It’s important to me to indeed have those poems set to song, and I wanted rising black composers to write them. Shawn was the perfect choice to do the first one.”
In addition to those world premieres, the program also includes “Miss Wheatley’s Garden” by Rosephanye Powell and “Lieder für bariton” (Hermann Hesse), Op. 20 by Robert Owens.
“Words Like Freedom” was made possible, in part, with support from the Hixson-Lied Endowment. It is a nine-movement song cycle for soprano and piano on a collection of poems (of the same name) by Langston Hughes.
“I was immediately drawn to ‘Words Like Freedom’ because of how he beautifully captured so much of what it means to be Black and, more broadly, human in a rich and timeless way: Freedom, Creation, Humility, Wonder, Protest, Oppression and Happiness,” Okpebholo writes the concert program notes. “The movements vary in complexity and music style, but unlike other song collections I have composed, ‘Words Like Freedom’ is meant to be performed as one complete cycle.”
“Undoing Poems” by Myers is a joint commission for Reimer and Jones.
“That text is reflecting on the Parkland [Florida] shootings and responses to the gun violence tragedies that have happened primarily in the black community,” Reimer said. “That’s been interesting to wrestle with that, too. I think the whole program is incredibly in tune with where we are as a society right now and the big issues that are facing us.”
Reimer is grateful for the support she has received to put this program together.
“I just think it’s tremendous that the Hixson-Lied College is so supportive of new works,” she said. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the grant funding that I received from the college, and I think it’s really poised to be impactful.”
She is excited for audiences to experience this program.
“I think audiences should expect some profoundly beautiful music with some ideas that will make them think,” Reimer said. “I think you could listen to all this music in a non-intellectual way and enjoy it. But if you come to the concert knowing there’s going to be something you might have to wrestle with a little bit, I think you’ll be better prepared for what you’re going to hear and take far more from it as an artistic experience.”
Okpebholo is a critically acclaimed and award-winning composer whose work has been featured on PBS Newshour and radio broadcasts across the country, including NPR’s All Things Considered and SiriusXM’s “Living American” series on the Symphony Hall channel. His awards include The American Academy of Arts and Letters Walter Hinrichsen Award in Music, First Place Winner of the 2020 American Prize in Composition (professional/wind band division), and the Inaugural Awardee of the Leslie Adams-Robert Owens Composition Award.
Myers is an artist and instructor of piano, composition and theory based in California’s Inland Empire. He serves on the faculty at the University of Redlands School of Music, teaching composition, music theory and electronic music. He has composed for orchestra, choir, solo and chamber ensembles, as well as for theater and dance.
Powell serves as professor of voice at Auburn University. “Miss Wheatley’s Garden” is named for America’s first African American female poet, Phillis Wheatley, who is said to have been born in Gambia, Senegal (Africa), between 1753 and 1755 and died in 1784 in Boston. She was brought to America on July 11, 1761. Her first poem was published at the age of 12. Wheatley became a Boston sensation after she wrote a poem on the death of the evangelical preacher George Whitefield in 1770. Three years later, 39 of her poems were published in London as “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.” It was the first book to be published by a Black American.
Owens wrote and performed his First Piano Concerto with Berkeley’s Young Peoples’ Symphony at the age of 15. After serving in the military, he continued his musical studies in Paris. After a brief teaching appointment in the US, he returned to Europe in 1959 to live and work in Germany. In 1970, his first opera, “Kultur! Kultur!” was performed in the Ulm Opera House to great acclaim. As an actor, he was much in demand as the title role in Shakespeare’s “Othello,” among others. He performed on all the most important stages in Germany. Following his death in 2017, his manuscripts and archives were donated to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Libraries.
Soprano Reimer and pianist Haneline have been collaborators for more than a decade. I 2017, the two were honored performers at the African American Arts Song Alliance featuring Robert Owens’ “4 Sonnets to Duse.” The team’s CD, “The Last Songs of Robert Owens,” was released in November 2020 by Centaur Records. The American Prize hailed the duo in 2021 with two awards citing Judges Special Citation for Art Song and Chamber Music of Robert Owens.
Active recitalists, Reimer and Haneline perform throughout the U.S. and internationally. The duo also are dedicated to cutting-edge research on collaborative partnerships between singers and pianists.
Singer and master teacher Jones is well-known to Washington, D.C.-area audiences, having performed regularly for more than three decades in opera, concert, recital and intimate cabaret settings. He is professor of voice at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va., and has been a member of the voice faculty at Seagle Festival in Schroon Lake, N.Y., since 2012.