A Celebration - Perkinson: Grass, Etc / Freeman, Et Al
This posthumous anthology consisting of selections from 50 years of work by composer Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932?2004) includes six world premieres?that is to say, it took 50 years for this man?s lifetime output to be recognized. Perhaps that is not so shocking. After all, how easy was it for a black man in the 1950s to obtain a bachelor?s and master?s degree from Manhattan School of Music, and compose his first major work at the age of 22 within the confines of a segregated society? But Perkinson, the namesake of black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875?1912), didn?t consider himself generically a black composer. Whether or not he allowed himself to be typecast as an ethnic artist, Perkinson?s interpretation of white, WASP, and Western musical convention is spiked with vintage blues and jazz. His music is, therefore, in an uncanny and paradoxical way, the reverse of the cultural plundering associated with Gershwin?s and Dvo?ák?s musical appropriations. Consequently, if Perkinson?s music isn?t especially innovative, we shouldn?t be surprised that a victim of discrimination and ghettoization would not choose to further isolate himself by throwing 12-tone rows into the mix. After all, experimentation is the spawn of prosperity, not the privilege of the hardship.
Perkinson?s Sinfonietta No. 1 for strings, composed in 1955, might have been considered, if composed by a young Caucasian, the work of a wunderkind. The precocious piece is an homage to Bach, and throughout his life Perkinson returned to fugal writing as a religious rite of appreciation for the German master. Two years later, Perkinson began to infiltrate into his technique the echoes of his ancestor slaves. Quartet No. 1 , based on ?Calvary? (Negro Spiritual) weaves together the dualism of his segregated world into one lucid harmonious dream.
The next selection on the disc was composed 20 years later. One wonders what happened in the intervening years, though we know that Perkinson had the opportunity to work with Leonard Bernstein, Max Roach, Alvin Ailey, Jerome Robbins, Marvin Gaye, and Harry Belafonte. He also co-founded and conducted the Symphony of the New World. Blue/s Forms for solo violin (1972) is a deep reverie of black experience as seen through the filter of Paganiniesque writing. Sanford Allen plays it with tender feeling. Equally luscious is Lamentations, a black/folk song suite for solo cello, played by Tahirah Whittington.
Just before his death, Perkinson composed the last selection on the disc, Movement for String Trio. It is a profoundly sweet, sad, Barberesque self-requiem for a man who should have been heard, and one hopes will be heard now?though he won?t be here to enjoy the long overdue recognition.
FANFARE: David Wolman
Catalog Number: CDR 087
Composer: Coleridge-Tayl Perkinson
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: Chicago Sinfonietta, New Black Music Repertory Ensemble Quartet
Performer: Ashley Horne, Carter Brey, Jesse Levine, Joseph Joubert, Sanford Allen, Tahirah Whittington