WMS concert features a blues-infused symphony by the “dean” of African American composers and introduces a rising young cello prodigy

Muskegon, Michigan, April 1, 2022—At one time William Grant Still’s 1930 Symphony no. 1 “Afro-American” was among the most frequently performed symphonies in the repertoire. Music Director Scott Speck and the West Michigan Symphony will bring this magnificent blues-infused work to the Frauenthal Center stage at 7:30 pm Friday, May 13. Also on the program will be Saint-Saëns’s Cello Concerto no. 1, performed by 21-year old cellist Sujari Britt, making her long-awaited first appearance in West Michigan. The concert—taking place two years and two months to the day after it was originally scheduled, then canceled due to the onset of the pandemic—will open with Dances in the Canebrakes by Florence Price, a piano work arranged for orchestra by Still.

“For too long, the music of brilliant African-American composers like William Grant Still and Florence Price has been practically ignored by symphony orchestras,” said Scott Speck. “In the case of Price, much of her music was unknown until it was rediscovered recently. The orchestra world is righting a great wrong in bringing these masterpieces to light. Still’s Afro-American Symphony is an essential piece of American orchestral music—steeped equally in gospel, the blues, and the classical symphonic tradition.”

William Grant Still and Florence Price were both born and raised in Arkansas. Still overcame many racial obstacles to become a successful arranger and composer in Hollywood, working in music studios and for such jazz pioneers as Artie Shaw, Paul Whiteman and W.C. Handy. As a leader of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, he was affectionately dubbed “the Dean” by his colleagues. Florence Price was a composer, pianist, organist and music teacher based for much of her career in the Chicago area. Her prizewinning 1933 Symphony in E minor was premiered by Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Frederick Stock—the first performance by a major American orchestra of a work by an African American woman composer.

Sujari Britt has been featured in both Strings and Time magazines, and has performed at Carnegie Hall as winner of the National Young Musicians Concerto Competition. Orchestral engagements include the Chicago Sinfonietta, Memphis Symphony, and Michigan’s Adrian Symphony. She is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music and is currently studying for her master’s degree in cello performance at Finland’s Sibelius Academy.

For tickets, starting at $19 for adults, $10 for students, call 231.727.8001, visit the Frauenthal box office at 425 W. Western Avenue, or purchase online at www.westmichigansymphony.org.

Michigan Arts & Culture Council
National Endowment for the Arts