On Saturday, Jan. 18, the Piedmont Center for the Arts will host An Evening of Music by Valerie Coleman, a benefit for the Oakland Symphony. The one-hour program will feature Coleman’s Danza de la Mariposa (2008), Portraits of Langston (2007), and the premiere of Amazonia (2019). Performed by Oakland Symphony musicians, flutist Amy Likar, clarinetist Diane Maltester, and pianist Miles Grabe, the symphony’s music director, Michael Morgan, serves as narrator in the show’s centerpiece, Portraits. Before each of the suite’s instrumental movements, Morgan will read Langston Hughes’ poems about the writer’s experiences during the Harlem Renaissance and jazz-age of Paris in the 1920s.
In an email interview, Morgan writes, ”Valerie Coleman is a great American success story. In a field where neither women nor African Americans are well enough represented she stands out by creating work after work that delights both audiences and critics. I am thrilled to present her music on this concert at Piedmont Center for the Arts.”
Described by critic Anne Midgette of the Washington Post as among the “Top 35 Female Composers in Classical Music,” Coleman is one of the world’s most played living composers. The New York Times calls her compositions “skillfully wrought, buoyant music.” A respected flutist and renowned educator, Coleman is an Assistant Professor of Performance, Chamber Music, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Miami. A summer mentorship program she launched in 2011, Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival, attracts elite, advanced young talent from around the world.
Danza de la Mariposa, an approximately five-minute piece written for solo flute is a South American-inflected tone poem. Syncopated Argentinian tango rhythms and lively melodic lines are contrasted by spacious, adagio Peruvian lamentations, creating the short work’s surprisingly organic, yet varied sonic landscape.
Coleman’s Portrait can be performed without narration, but the well-balanced, finely-paced movements combined with a spoken word tribute to Hughes’ legacy poems gain power and emotional depth. The six-movement, approximately twenty-two minute work stands as clear indication of Coleman’s mature, nuanced capabilities, expressivity and command of form. Oaklanders might after the show investigate the McGill/McHale Trio’s album that includes and draws its title from Coleman’s work, Portraits: Works for Flute, Clarinet, and Piano. The Cedille Records-produced album has Oscar-winning actor and East Bay native Mahershala Ali reading the poems.
Amazonia, featuring Likar and Graber, is described in program notes as “an elegy for the Amazon forests in the wake of climate change.” It’s a fitting, contemplative closer to a program that purposefully feeds the body and soul, supports a local community of artists, highlights with the success of a heralded woman composer of color the plight of underserved composers, and preserves and extends for the next generation the creativity and best hopes of all.
Michael Morgan Presents: An Evening of Music by Valerie Coleman, A Benefit for Oakland Symphony at Piedmont Center for the Arts, 801 Magnolia Ave. on Saturday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. Tickets $100; purchase here.