Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Is one of these the next Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla?


In a reflection of the zeitgeist Slipped Disc trumpets 'All male winners at the Katheleen Ferrier prize' but overlooks the equally obvious headline of '75 conductors at the Proms and 74 are white'*. A comment by Kevin Scott on my post 'Grammy-winning conductor says please exploit me' offers a more informed view of how classical music can rectify its plural inequalities. So Kevin's comment now gets the solo spot it deserves:
Look, folks, let's get real. John McLaughlin Williams is one of the best conductors out there, period! But this man DOES need to get more work, and so do many other black men and women who have graced the podium! (yes, and that includes this poor schnook!)

But in all seriousness, John has a vast repertoire that he wishes to conduct. Not just the standard repertoire, but also music that deserves to be heard, and not just on recordings or in some concert hall in Europe. He has been invited by the likes of the Colorado Symphony and the Detroit Symphony, but on one-off concerts, so why hasn't he been invited by these major orchestras, and others, on a subscription series?

Now in recent months many people have asked "who is that wonderful black conductor we see on the GMC commercial?" [see below] and the answer is Kazem Abdullah, but apart from a gig with the Westchester Symphony last June, and a recent appearance by the Detroit Symphony performing, among other works, Jeffrey Mumford's Cello Concerto, he has, to my knowledge, not been invited to conduct major orchestras here for the '17-18 season. This also applies to Kirk Smith who, if you have read some of my posts and his, has recently made a recording of works for string orchestra by American composers (this one included :) ), but apart from an appearance with the Houston Symphony last year, I don't see American orchestras clamoring for his services.

And though his reputation is lauded by many in the business, André Raphel does get plum gigs, but in my opinion he should be guesting with more first-tier orchestras in this country, and that's a no if's, and's or but's statement right there! This also applies to Bill Eddins, who is one marvelous conductor in his own right (not to mention a dynamite pianist!)

Ditto Julius P. Williams, Leslie B. Dunner (and he's a MD candidate for the Erie Chamber Orchestra), Vincent L Danner (also a candidate for the Erie position), Jeri Lynne Johnson, Brandon Keith Brown, Marlon Daniel (and he's been invited to conduct Cuba's National Symphony in Havana!), Joseph Young, Roderick Cox, Joseph Jones and most likely a few others who escape my mind at this moment (Please, please, please shout yourselves out!)

Now...as Bob hinted, if DGG can sign what they say is their "first female cellist" and wish to "exploit" her, then why isn't a major label hooking up with some of these conductors to grant them the exposure they deserve? Is it because they don't want to break the glass ceiling and show the world that black conductors are capable of performing both the standard repertoire as well as new music? Are they afraid that they don't know how to "market" them?

First - we need to be seen as conductors, period. The color should not matter whatsoever, but for those who have made up their minds that black men and women should not hold grace at the podium because...well, this music is not a part of our history, we beg to differ. Second, there are many of us who are guardians of this music and defenders of its faith, and in some cases even more so than one is led to believe! Third and last...because audiences seek new faces, and we are the makers of generations to come and to aspire them to explore this vast repertoire of music.

I said enough!


* Norman could also have said that the one black conductor - Kevin John Edusei with Cheneke! - is consigned to the late-night BBC Proms ghetto. Ungrateful? No, can you imagine the social media outrage if the only woman conductor at the 2017 Proms was consigned to the 10.15pm slot. Then there is the question of whether black conductors are only going to be allowed to conduct BME orchestras at the Proms. And Cheneke! must beware of being annexed as a BBC sub-brand. But like Kevin, I've said enough. Black conductors in my header montage are from top left clockwise, André Raphel, Kazem Abdullah, Jeri Lynne Johnson and John McLaughlin Williams. On An Overgrown Path is also on Facebook and Twitter.

1 comment:

Pliable said...

I'm actually waiting for someone to point out that although there are 75 Prom concerts, only one of which is conducted by a black conductor, there are in fact a few conductors giving more than one Prom. So it is 75 versus 74 concerts, with the number of conductors being a few less than 75. Apologies, but I simply haven't had time to go through each concert and de-duplicate those conducted by the same conductor. It doesn't affect the argument one iota, and, after all, the mythical headline with its factual license was meant to come from Norman Lebrecht.